Friday, August 26, 2011

The Orbital Perspective of Astronaut Ron Garan

"Hello from space!" greets astronaut Ron Garan as an opening to his recently published video blog. Garan's goal is to show how this orbital research facility can help improve life on Earth, while also inspiring people to make a difference. How better to introduce the world at large to the International Space Station, than for Garan to welcome viewers on a guided tour of his amazing home and live-in laboratory.

Garan treats his audience to a personal exploration of the station, starting with the Japanese Experiment Module or Kibo, which in Japanese means "Hope." He highlights the airlock and robotic arm, which places investigations onto an external platform in the vacuum of space. Garan also points out two of the Kibo experiment racks, where the crew conduct certain microgravity investigations. The Ryutai Experiment Rack facilitates studies to advance quality materials, medical diagnostics and micro and nano technology. The Saibo Experiment Rack houses plant growth experiments, an essential element of future long-duration space exploration that also is important for improving crop efficiencies here on Earth.

Next, Garan leads viewers into the European module, dubbed Columbus. The crew conducts biological and human research in this laboratory area. Other research includes the Geoflow-1 investigation, which helps to increase understanding of Earth's core, contributing to scientists' ability to predict natural disasters. Facilities aboard this European module include the Biological Experiment Laboratory, or BioLab; the European Physiology Module, or EPM; and the European Modular Cultivation System, or EMCS.

This tour, however, offers only a brief synopsis of the overarching capabilities of the space station. "Other research is leading to things like new emergency sutureless wound closure and disinfection, breakthroughs in the understanding and the protection against bacteria -- such as Salmonella, the treatment of osteoporosis and skin disorders," said Garan. "And the development of a NASA bioreactor, which is being used in laboratories around the world for research in things like cancer, regenerative medicine, artificial organs, diabetes, AIDS, vaccine production, and infectious disease."

As the tour continues, Garan introduces the U.S. Destiny Laboratory, where the Microgravity Science Glovebox, or MSG, and EXPRESS racks enable even more microgravity research. The Combustion Integrated Rack, or CIR, for instance, helps with studies on fuel efficiency, pollution, and fire safety both on spacecraft and on Earth. The Fluids Integrated Rack, or FIR, also in Destiny, contributes to fluid physics investigations that lead to advancements in clean energy and the elimination of hazardous waste.

While showing the Destiny Lab, Garan was not able to give viewers a peek inside the Window Observational Research Facility, or WORF, because of an active investigation called the International Space Station Agricultural Camera, or ISSAC. This camera takes frequent images to help monitor Earth crop conditions and rapidly changing global phenomena, such as natural disasters.

Moving on to the Russian module, Garan points out two additional facilities with ongoing investigations. The first is the Mini-Research Module, or MRM2. Also known as Poisk, which means "Explore" in Russian, this module enables such research as the impact of electromagnetic fields on crystal development in microgravity. The other study takes place in the Lada Greenhouse and looks at the impact of hydroponics -- a method of growing plants without soil -- on wheat and vegetables. Garan takes time to mention the Earth-facing windows in the Russian module that allow for Earth observations, such as the Rusalka investigation that studies Earth's environment and atmosphere.

Garan comments that station technologies, such as those developed to meet the need for sustainable resources in orbit, have already led to proven Earth benefits. For instance, NASA engineers volunteered their time in Rwanda to develop a sustainable water treatment system that used station technology. "That project led to a project in Kenya providing household-scale water treatment systems for 4 million people," said Garan. "It is the largest water treatment project of its kind in the world."

International cooperation was key in the development of the space station and continues to be instrumental in the success of this orbiting resource. "The ISS is truly a global asset; the result of 15 nations working together sharing planning, technology, scientific advances and the talent of its people," said Garan.

Continuing to learn how people exist in extreme environments can help prepare humans for future exploration to Mars. What Garan conveys with this video tour is that the knowledge from his orbital residence also benefits his Earthly home on a global level. To learn more and share in Garan's orbital perspective, visit

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