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NASA Selects 11 Space Biology Research Projects to Inform Biological Research During Future Lunar Exploration MissionsBy NASA
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NASA Selects 11 Space Biology Research Projects to Inform Biological Research During Future Lunar Exploration Missions
NASA announces the award of eleven grants or cooperative agreements for exciting new Space Biology research that will advance NASA’s understanding of how exposure to lunar dust/regolith impact both plant and animal systems.
As human exploration prepares to go beyond Earth Orbit, Space Biology is advancing its research priorities towards work that will enable organisms to Thrive In DEep Space (TIDES). The ultimate goal of the TIDES initiative is to enable long-duration space missions and improve life on Earth through innovative research. Space Biology supported research will enable the study of the effects of environmental stressors in spaceflight on model organisms, that will both inform future fundamental research, as well as provide valuable information that will better enable human exploration of deep space.
Proposals for these eleven projects were submitted in response to ROSES-2022 Program Element E.9 “Space Biology Research Studies” (NNH22ZDA001N-SBR). This funding opportunity solicited ground studies using plant or animal models (or their associated microbes) to characterize the responses of these organisms to lunar regolith simulant similar to that found at NASA candidate landing sites for future lunar exploration missions. This funding opportunity represents a collaboration between the Space Biology Program and NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division within the Exploration Architecture, Integration, and Science (EAIS) Directorate at the NASA Johnson Space Center, who will be supplying the lunar regolith simulant required for these studies.
Selected studies include (but are not limited to) efforts to 1) test the ability of lunar regolith to act as a growth substrate for crop-producing plants including grains, tomatoes and potatoes, 2) understand how growth in lunar regolith influences plant and microbial interactions, and how in turn, these interactions affect plant development and health, 3) identify and test bioremediation methods/techniques to enhance the ability of regolith to act as a growth substrate, and 4) understand how lunar dust exposure impacts host/microbial interactions in human-analogous model systems under simulated microgravity conditions.
Eleven investigators will conduct these Space Biology investigations from ten institutions in nine states. Eight of these awards are to investigators new to the Space Biology Program. When fully implemented, approximately $2.3 million will be awarded in fiscal years 2024-2027.
Plant Research Investigations
Simon Gilroy, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, Madison
Tailoring Lunar Regolith to Plant Nutrition
Aymeric Goyer, Ph.D. Oregon State University
Growth, physiology and nutrition dynamics of potato plants grown on lunar regolith
Christopher Mason, Ph.D. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Leveraging the microbes of Earth’s extreme environments for sustainable plant growth
in lunar regolith
Thomas Juenger, Ph.D. University of Texas, Austin
Engineering plant-microbial interactions for improved plant growth on simulated lunar regolith
Plant Early Career Research Investigations
Miranda Haus, Ph.D. Michigan State University
The sources and extent of root stunting during growth in lunar highland regolith and its impact on legume symbioses
Joseph Lynch, Ph.D. West Virginia University
The metabolomic impact of lunar regolith-based substrate on tomatoes
Jared Broddrick, Ph.D. NASA Ames Research Center
Phycoremediation of lunar regolith towards in situ agriculture
Shuyang Zhen, Ph.D. Texas A&M AgriLife Research
Investigating the impact of foliar and root-zone exposure to lunar regolith simulant on lettuce growth and stress physiology in a hydroponic system
Plant Small Scale Research Investigations
Kathryn Fixen, Ph.D. University of Minnesota
The impact of lunar regolith on nitrogen fixation in a plant growth promoting rhizobacterium
Animal Research Investigations
Cheryl Nickerson, Arizona State University
Effects of Lunar Dust Simulant on Human 3-D Biomimetic Intestinal Models, Enteric Microorganisms, and Infectious Disease Risks
Afshin Beheshti, Ph.D. NASA Ames Research CenterSpaceflight and Regolith Induced Mitochondrial Stress Mitigated by miRNA-based Countermeasures
Last Updated Nov 21, 2023 Related Terms
Biological & Physical Sciences Space Biology View the full article
A member of the winning team of NASA’s 2023’s BIG Idea Challenge working on their Lunar Forge project, Production of Steel from Lunar Regolith through Carbonyl Iron Refining (CIR).University of Utah Through Artemis, NASA plans to conduct long-duration human and robotic missions on the lunar surface in preparation for future crewed exploration of Mars. Expanding exploration capabilities requires a robust lunar infrastructure, including practical and cost-effective ways to construct a lunar base. One method is employing in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) – or the ability to use naturally occurring resources – to produce consumables and build structures in the future, which will make explorers more Earth-independent.
An ISRU process that NASA wants to learn more about is forging metals from lunar minerals to create structures and tools in the future. Through its 2023 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Lunar Forge Challenge, NASA sought innovative concepts from university students to design an ISRU metal production pipeline on the Moon. The year-and-a-half-long challenge, funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Office of STEM Engagement, supports NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative in developing new approaches and novel technologies to pave the way for successful exploration on the surface of the Moon.
Finalist teams presented their research, designs, prototypes, and testing results to a panel of NASA and industry judges at a culminating forum on Nov. 16, in Cleveland, Ohio.
The University of Utah team, partnering with Powder Metallurgy Research Laboratory, earned the Artemis Award, which represents top honors in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Their lunar forge project, Production of Steel from Lunar Regolith through Carbonyl Iron Refining (CIR), represents a promising avenue to extract iron from reduced lunar regolith and refine it into a high purity powder product in a two-stage process. The Artemis Award is given to the team whose concept has the best potential to contribute to and be integrated into an Artemis mission.
There were multiple times we came close to scrapping the concept, but each time we found the strength to go a little farther. Our small group was driven by a genuine belief in the concept and curiosity of what would happen. This honor has validated the perseverance, effort, and dedication of exploring an innovative and applied idea. Participating in this challenge has allowed us to gain a tremendous and unique experience in technical and collaboration skills. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity and for the friends we made along the way!
Collin Andersen, Team Lead
University of Utah and Powder Metallurgy Research Laboratory
The University of Utah team, partnering with Powder Metallurgy Research Laboratory, earned the Artemis Award, which represents top honors in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Credit: National Institute of Aerospace Teams could select to address technologies needed along any point in the lunar metal production pipeline, including, but not limited to:
Metal detecting Metal refining Forming materials for additive manufacturing Testing and qualifying 3D printed infrastructure for use on the Moon In January, teams submitted proposal packages, from which seven finalists were selected in March 2023 for funding of up to $180,000, totaling nearly $1.1 million across all teams. The finalists then worked for nine months designing, developing, and demonstrating their concepts. The 2023 BIG Idea program concluded at its annual forum, where teams presented their results and answered questions from judges, followed by an interactive poster session. Experts from NASA and other aerospace companies evaluated the student concepts based on technical innovation, credibility, management, and teams’ verification testing. In addition to the presentation, the teams provided a technical paper and technical poster detailing their proposed metal production pipeline.
This was a fantastic experience for both the student and NASA participants. The university concepts for how to forge metal on the Moon were inspiring and resulted in diverse, novel approaches for the agency to consider, as well as an extensive learning experience for students. The BIG Idea Challenge proves time and time again that engaging the academic community in complex technology challenges is a worthwhile endeavor for everyone involved.
Director of technology maturation within STMD
In addition to the top spot, several teams were recognized in other categories, including:
Edison Award: Missouri University of Science & Technology
Path-to-Flight Award: University of North Texas with Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Processes Institute at UNT; Enabled Engineering
Systems Engineering: Northwestern University with Wearifi, Inc.
Best Verification Demonstration: Colorado School of Mines
BIG Picture Award: Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Honeybee Robotics
Innovation Award: Pennsylvania State University with RFHIC & Jacobs Space Exploration Group
The 2023 BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA through a collaboration between STMD’s Game Changing Development program and the Office of STEM Engagement’s Space Grant project. The Challenge is managed by a partnership between the National Institute of Aerospace and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
Students from Northwestern University with Wearifi, Inc., winners of the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge System’s Engineering award.Credit: Northwestern University Colorado School of Mines team members are shown submerging the housing into a furnace holding simulated regolith melt > 1,300°C in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge.Credit: Colorado School of Mines An image of MIT’s floating zone furnace set up for the unbeneficiated small-scale experiment. Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Missouri University of Science & Technology’s team members are shown working on their lunar forge project in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge.Credit: Missouri University of Science & Technology An image of furrowed soil created by ACRE’s plow in Northwestern’s BIG Idea Challenge project. Credit: Northwestern University Penn State University’s SMELT system is shown during experiments with 20-g samples during the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Credit: Penn State University Student from Missouri University of Science and Technology working on the team’s lunar forge project in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge.Credit: Missouri University of Science and Technology An overview image depicts how University of North Texas’s SIMPLE project works, in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Credit: University of North Texas Colorado School of Mines team members pouring regolith slag into tile sandcasting molds to review applicability for use as building products in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Credit: Colorado School of Mines An image of one step in the process of reducing anorthite to alumina in Missouri University of Science & Technology’s BIG Idea Challenge project. Credit: Missouri University of Science and Technology Penn State University’s SMELT system is shown during experiments with 20-g samples during the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Credit: Penn State University The University of Utah team, partnering with Powder Metallurgy Research Laboratory, earned the Artemis Award, which represents top honors in the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge. Pictured here with Dave Moore, Program Manager for NASA’s Game Changing Development program. Credit: Amy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace BIG Idea Challenge winners of the Best Verification Demonstration, Colorado School of MinesAmy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace 2023 BIG Idea Challenge winners of the BIG Picture Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Honeybee Robotics Amy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace 2023 BIG Idea Challenge winners of the Edison Award, Missouri University of Science & TechnologyAmy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace 2023 BIG Idea Challenge winners of the Innovation Award, Pennsylvania State University with RFHIC & Jacobs Space Exploration GroupAmy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace 2023 BIG Idea Challenge winners of the Path to Flight Award, University of North Texas with Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Processes Institute at UNT; Enabled EngineeringCredit: Amy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace 2023 BIG Idea Challenge winners of the Systems Engineering Award, Northwestern University with Wearifi, Inc.Credit: Amy McCluskey, National Institute of Aerospace NASA sponsors the 2023 BIG Idea Challenge through its Game Changing Development program and the Office of STEM Engagement’s Space Grant project. The National Institute of Aerospace and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland managed the challenge for NASA.
Team presentations, technical papers, and digital posters are available on the BIG Idea website.
For full competition details, visit:
NASA’s 2023 annual Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge asks college students to design technologies that will support a metal production pipeline on the Moon – from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and tools. NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA
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Even growing up in the heart of Washington, D.C., stargazer Oliver Ortiz felt a connection to space from a young age and always wondered what was beyond the city lights. Now a seasoned engineer with Northrop Grumman, he is contributing to a new era of space exploration with Gateway, humanity’s first space station in lunar orbit, and a critical part of NASA’s Artemis missions that will establish a long-term presence at the Moon.
Oliver Ortiz poses for a portrait, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, at the NASA Headquarters Mary W. Jackson Building in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Ortiz leads Northrop Grumman’s systems engineering team focused on the integration of Gateway’s foundational elements, HALO (Habitation and Logistics Outpost) and the Power and Propulsion Element. HALO is set to launch with the Power and Propulsion Element on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket ahead of the Artemis IV mission, providing living quarters and the space station’s power and orbital control.
He embarked on his engineering journey at the University of Maryland College Park, obtaining both his undergraduate and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering. He joined Northrop Grumman as an intern in 2014 and quickly rose through the ranks, shaping his career in systems engineering while making significant contributions to various space programs, including commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station.
Ortiz’s path to the world of space engineering was not clear. He first set out to be an astronomer, but changed course toward a career in engineering that now has him leading a team of engineers responsible for ensuring the systems of Gateway’s first two elements are well-integrated and ready to be the building blocks of the lunar outpost.
“I’ve loved space since I was in elementary school and initially wanted to be an astronomer,” said Ortiz. “My undergrad English professor was married to an astronomer and offered to introduce me to her husband. It was in that coffee shop meet and greet that I realized I did not want to be an astronomer. I wanted to be an aerospace engineer and I’m forever grateful that he and fate pointed me in the direction of my true passion.”
It was Ortiz’s involvement in designing Next Step-1, a precursor to HALO, that defined his current trajectory when Northrop Grumman was chosen as Gateway’s prime contractor responsible for designing and fabricating HALO. Since 2016, Ortiz has dedicated his career to the creation of the world’s first habitat designed to support sustainable life outside Earth orbit.
“Sustainability for me means we can learn enough from living on and around the Moon that we can ultimately go to Mars,” Ortiz said. “The Moon is the steppingstone to what’s next and we have to learn how to build a safe environment in an economically efficient way.”
Built with commercial and international partnerships, Gateway is a vital component of the Artemis missions, helping NASA and its partners test the technologies and capabilities for a sustained human presence in deep space.
Primary article author: Tiffany Travis
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5 Min Read Deploying and Demonstrating Navigation Aids on the Lunar Surface
Lunar Node-1 (LN-1)
NASA is developing lunar navigation beacons to be deployed on spacecraft or the lunar surface to aid in localization and help future space vehicles determine position, velocity, and time to high accuracy.
The Lunar Node-1 payload in the test chamber at the Deep Space Network’s Development and Test Facility (DTF)-21 radio frequency (RF) compatibility testing lab. The large block seen in the image is the antenna hat used to collect RF energy for ground testing and integration. “Are we there yet?” is a constant question on any journey. As humanity expands its presence on, near, and around the Moon, new systems are needed to provide navigation signals similar those provided by the Global Positioning System (GPS) on Earth. To enable this capability, NASA is supporting research on a range of sensors, architectures, and techniques for providing reference signals to help spacecraft and humans find their way.
Lunar Node 1 (LN-1) is an S-band navigation beacon for lunar applications that was recently designed and built at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). As part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, this beacon is scheduled to be delivered to the Moon’s surface on Intuitive Machine’s NOVA-C lunar lander on the IM-1 mission in early 2024.
The Lunar Node-1 flight payload installed on the Intuitive Machines NOVA-C lander for the IM-1 mission. The payload is mounted near the top deck of the vehicle to provide a clear field of view for its antenna back to Earth. Image Credit: Intuitive Machines/Nick Rios During this mission, LN-1’s goal will be to demonstrate navigation technologies that can support local surface and orbital operations around the Moon, enabling autonomy and decreasing dependence on heavily utilized Earth-based communication assets like NASA’s Deep Space Network demonstrate these capabilities, LN-1’s design leverages CubeSat components as well as the Multi-spacecraft Autonomous Positioning System (MAPS) algorithms, which enable autonomous spacecraft positioning using navigation measurements. In addition to demonstrating the MAPS algorithms, LN-1’s radio will also be used to conduct pseudo-noise (PN)-based, one-way, non-coherent ranging and Doppler tracking to provide alternate approaches and comparisons for navigation performance. To provide a real-time solution similar to GPS, but in the lunar environment, multiple references must be in view of users at the same time. As this future lunar communication network is deployed, LN-1 hardware and capabilities could be part of a much larger infrastructure.
Over the course of the transit to the Moon from Earth and during its the nominal lunar surface operations, LN-1 will broadcast its state and timing information back to Earth. Once it lands on the lunar surface, the payload will enter into a 24/7 operational period, and will also provide a navigation reference signal back to Earth. To validate LN-1 capabilities, DSN ground stations will be used to capture measurements and measure performance. Upon reception of the LN-1 data, high-accuracy packet reception timestamps will be used (along with atmospheric data for induced delays) to assess a ranging observation. This data will be captured during multiple passes to compute a navigation state of the payload during the mission. The LN-1 team is also partnering with other NASA researchers to collect Very Long Baseline Interferometry observations of the navigation signals as an independent truth reference.
Concept of Operations. This diagram shows the dual data paths being exercised by the LN-1 payload. The primary operational command and data handling is done through a hardwire connection between the payload and the host lander. Using its onboard transmitter, LN-1 will transmit its navigation signals independently, providing the lander’s current time and state information via both a reference one-way PN solution as well as the transmission of MAPS packets. The compact size of the LN-1 payload can be seen in the LN-1 CAD models in the figures below. The primary LN-1 structure is approximately 175x220x300 cm in volume with a mass of approximately 2.8 kg. The dominating feature of the design is the large top surface, which is a radiator. The hot environment on the lunar surface, combined with the heat generated by the LN-1 radio while transmitting, require the LN-1 design to incorporate a radiator to dissipate heat during operation so that a clean interface with the host vehicle will be maintained. While the LN-1 payload is not designed to survive the lunar night, it uses a modular design that could be integrated into a variety of host vehicles; if adequate power generation/storage were provided, the design may be able to offer long-term operation at any lunar landing site.
Interior views of LN-1. These images provide a look inside the payload showing the primary components: radiator hat, antenna mount adapter, SWIFT SL-X transmitter, FPGA-based controller board, and power conditioning electronics. LN-1 successfully passed vibration, electromagnetic interference testing, and thermal vacuum testing at Marshall Space Flight Center in 2020 and 2021. After completion and delivery of the LN-1 payload, testing with the planned operational ground stations began. This testing included RF compatibility testing between the DSN and the LN-1 payload as well as tests of the data flows between the DSN and MSFC’s Huntsville Operations Support Center. Performed at the DSN’s Development and Test Facility (DTF)-21 facility in early 2021, these tests successfully verified RF compatibility between DSN and the LN-1 payload. Specifically, the tests showed that the DSN can receive S-band telecommunication signals in all the planned operational modes required to process telemetry and ranging data from LN-1.
LN-1 Principal Investigator, Evan Anzalone, performing RF Compatibility Testing at DTF-21. This testing was important to characterize the stability of the one-way ranging tone and demonstrate integration with the DSN ground network for flight operations. The LN-1 team is currently setting up the flight spare with a flight-matching radio and is preparing to conduct another round of testing to capture long-term stability data with ground receivers to demonstrate improved capability with improved clocks and signal generation algorithms. In the future, this new technology and the MAPS algorithms demonstrated by LN-1 could enable autonomous navigation for lunar assets. As NASA invests in communication and navigation infrastructure around, near, and on the Moon, the LN-1 team continues to develop future iterations of the navigation beacon to support broad lunar surface coverage. The team is currently maturing the capabilities of the payload in preparation for continued laboratory assessments and field demonstrations using updated navigation signals as defined for LunaNet. Three key capabilities will be the focus of the development of a follow-on payload to LN-1:
Demonstration of inter-spacecraft navigation, providing support to operational vehicles in lunar orbit by acting as a fixed ground reference The capability to survive the lunar night onboard the payload to demonstrate technologies needed for a long-term navigation beacon Maturation of signal to match the Augmented Forward Signal standard as defined in the LunaNet Interoperability Specification for integration, operation, and compatibility with other planned NASA assets and infrastructure PROJECT LEAD
Dr. Evan Anzalone and Tamara Statham, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)
NASA-Provided Lunar Payloads Program
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Artist concept of an In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) demonstration on the Moon. Many technologies in six priority areas encompassed by NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative will need testing, such as advancing ISRU technologies that could lead to future production of fuel, water, or oxygen from local materials, expanding exploration capabilities. As NASA ushers in an exciting era of long-term exploration on the Moon with Artemis, new strategies are being formulated to determine how technology, infrastructure, and operations will function together as a cohesive and cross-cutting system.
As a sustained presence grows at the Moon, opportunities to harvest lunar resources could lead to safer, more efficient operations with less dependence on Earth. Many new technologies in six priority areas encompassed by NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative will need testing. For example, advancing In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies could lead to future production of fuel, water, or oxygen from local materials, expanding exploration capabilities.
To support ISRU technology maturation, NASA issued a Request for Information (RFI) on Nov. 6 to formulate its future Lunar Infrastructure Foundational Technologies (LIFT-1) demonstration. Led by the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), NASA’s primary objective for LIFT-1 is to demonstrate ISRU technologies to extract oxygen from lunar soil, to inform eventual production, capture, and storage. Additional LIFT-1 objectives may include demonstrating new landing technologies, surface operations, and scalable power generation in the Moon’s South Pole region.
With the RFI, NASA is asking for input from the lunar community to inform an integrated approach inclusive of launch, landing, and demonstration of surface infrastructure technologies as part of a subscale ISRU demonstration.
“The LIFT-1 demonstration creates a viable path to launch, land, and conduct operations on the lunar surface. This is the infusion path we need for ongoing industry and NASA center-led technology development activities,” said Dr. Prasun Desai, acting associate administrator of STMD at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Using in-situ resources is essential to making a sustained presence farther from Earth possible. Just as we need consumables and infrastructure to live and work on our home planet, we’ll need similar support systems on the Moon for crew and robots to operate safely and productively.”
NASA has several current ISRU investments through partnerships with industry and academia. Prospecting, extraction, and mining initiatives are advancing our capabilities to find and harness resources from the lunar regolith. Chemical and thermal process developments may provide options to break down naturally occurring minerals and compounds found on the Moon and convert them to propellant or human consumables. Other potential longer-term applications could lead to extraterrestrial metal processing and construction of lunar surface structures using resources found on the Moon. Many of these technologies could be demonstrated and advanced on the Moon for future use at Mars. While the Moon has almost no atmosphere, Mars has an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide, and NASA is investing in initiatives to use CO2 to create other useful elements or compounds.
MOXIE on NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover marked the beginning of off-Earth ISRU technology demonstrations, successfully extracting oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide throughout a series of tests. NASA intends to demonstrate a similar capability on the lunar surface from its resources, and this RFI will help NASA capture stakeholder interest and ideas on how to partner, preferred acquisition approaches, and funding feasibility. This kind of input is critical to advancing innovative solutions that will help NASA and its partners explore the surface of the Moon for longer periods of time than ever before possible.
“An ISRU technology demonstration approach has been a topic of discussion within the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative and Consortium communities for several years,” said Niki Werkheiser, director of Technology Maturation in STMD. “This RFI is the next phase to make it a reality.”
The Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) was established by NASA in 2020 to coalesce government, academia, non-profit institutions, and the private sector to identify technological capabilities and hurdles that must be retired to achieve a sustained presence on the surface of the Moon, both human and robotic.
The LIFT-1 RFI is available on NSPIRES and open for responses through Dec. 18, 2023, at 5:00 p.m. EST. NASA will host an industry forum on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, at 1:00 p.m. EST.
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