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The International Space Station is a microgravity research lab hosting groundbreaking technology demonstrations and scientific investigations. More than 3,700 investigations conducted to date have generated roughly 500 research articles published in scientific journals. In 2023, the orbiting lab hosted more than 500 investigations.
See more space station research achievements and findings in the Annual Highlights of Results publication, and read highlights of results published between October 2022 and October 2023 below:
A New Spin on Pulsars
A view of NICER, attached to the space station’s exterior multipurpose payload shelving unit.NASA Neutron stars, ultra-dense matter left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas, are also called pulsars because they spin and emit X-ray radiation in beams that sweep the sky like lighthouses. The Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) collects this radiation to study the structure, dynamics, and energetics of pulsars. Researchers used NICER data to calculate rotations of six pulsars and update mathematical models of their spin properties. Precise measurements enhance the understanding of pulsars, including their production of gravitational waves, and help address fundamental questions about matter and gravity.
Learning from Lightning
The space station’s robotic arm maneuvers the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, seen at the top of the image, for light testing. NASA Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) studies how upper-atmospheric electrical discharges generated by severe thunderstorms affect Earth’s atmosphere and climate. These events occur well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds. Using ASIM data, researchers reported the first detailed observations of development of a of negative leader, or initiation of a flash, from in-cloud lightning. Understanding how thunderstorms disturb the high-altitude atmosphere could improve atmospheric models and climate and weather predictions.
Regenerating Tissue in Space
Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect (Rodent Research-4 (CASIS)), sponsored by the ISS National Lab, examined wound healing mechanisms in microgravity. Researchers found that microgravity affected the fibrous and cellular components of skin tissue. Fibrous structures in connective tissue provide structure and protection for the body’s organs. This finding is an initial step to use connective tissue regeneration to treat disease and injuries for future space explorers.
Mighty Muscles in Microgravity
Installation of the Mouse Habitat Unit (MHU) in the station’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility. NASA/JAXA JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) developed the Multiple Artificial-gravity Research System (MARS), which generates artificial gravity in space. Three JAXA investigations, MHU-1, MHU-4, and MHU-5, used the artificial-gravity system to examine the effect on skeletal muscles from different gravitation loads – microgravity, lunar gravity (1/6 g), and Earth gravity (1 g). Results show that lunar gravity protects against loss of some muscle fibers but not others. Different gravitational levels may be needed to support muscle adaptation on future missions.
Better Ultrasound Images
JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide uses the station’s ultrasound device to image the femoral artery in his right leg. NASA Vascular Echo, an investigation from CSA (Canadian Space Agency), examined changes in blood vessels and the heart during and after spaceflight using ultrasound and other measures. Researchers compared 2D ultrasound technology with a motorized 3D ultrasound and found that 3D is more accurate. Better measurements could help maintain crew health in space and quality of life for people on Earth.
This is Your Brain in Space
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet with a preflight scan of his brain for the Brain-DTI investigation. ESA/NASA The Brain-DTI investigation from ESA (European Space Agency) tested whether the brain adapts to weightlessness by using previously untapped connections between neurons. MRI scans of crew members before and after spaceflight demonstrate functional changes in specific brain regions, confirming the adaptability and plasticity of the brain under extreme conditions. This insight supports the development of ways to monitor brain adaptations and countermeasures to promote healthy brain function in space and for those with brain-related disorders on Earth.
Improving Solar Materials
The MISSE-FF platform is used to test how exposure to space affects materials, including those used for solar power in space.NASA Metal halide perovskite (MHP) materials convert sunlight into electrical energy and show promise for use in thin-film solar cells in space due to low cost, high performance, suitability for in-space manufacturing, and defect and radiation tolerance. For Materials International Space Station Experiment-13-NASA (MISSE-13-NASA), which continues a series investigating how space affects various materials, researchers exposed perovskite thin films to space for ten months. Results confirmed their durability and stability in this environment. This finding could lead to improvements in MHP materials and devices for space applications such as solar panels.
Understanding Bubbles in Foams
A sample cell for the FOAM investigation on the space station.NASA Wet foams are dispersions of gas bubbles in a liquid matrix. An ESA investigation, FSL Soft Matter Dynamics or FOAM, examines coarsening, a thermodynamic process where large bubbles grow at the expense of smaller ones. Researchers determined the coarsening rates for various types of foams and found close agreement with theoretical predictions. A better understanding of foam properties could help scientists improve these substances for a variety of uses, including firefighting and water treatment in space and making detergents, food, and medicine on Earth.
Answering Burning Questions
A sample of composite cotton and fiberglass fabric burns during Saffire-IV.NASA Fire is a constant concern in space. The Saffire series of experiments studies flame conditions in microgravity using empty Cygnus resupply spacecraft that have undocked from the space station. Saffire-IV examined fire growth with different materials and conditions and showed that a technique called color pyrometry can determine the temperature of a spreading flame. The finding helps validate numerical models of flame properties in microgravity and provides insight into fire safety on future missions.
The Robot Hop
An Astrobee robot performs a self-tossing maneuver on the space station.NASA Astrobatics tests robotic movement using hopping or self-toss maneuvers by the station’s Astrobee robots. In low gravity, robots could move faster, use less fuel, and cover otherwise impassable terrain with these maneuvers, expanding their orbital and planetary capabilities. Results verified the viability of the locomotion method and showed that it provides a greater range of distance. The work is a step toward autonomous robotic helpers in space and on other celestial bodies, potentially reducing the need to expose astronauts to risky environments.
International Space Station Program Research Office
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U.S. Space Forces Central hosted the second annual U.S. Central Command Theater Space Forum recently, bringing together over 140 space experts from all five branches of the Defense Department, multiple Combatant Commands and partner nations.
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Science Launching on SpaceX's 30th Cargo Resupply Mission to the Space Station
NASA has selected Dana Weigel as the International Space Station Program manager, based at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Weigel succeeds Joel Montalbano, who has accepted a position as deputy associate administrator for the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.Credits: NASA NASA has selected Dana Weigel as the International Space Station Program manager, based at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Weigel succeeds Joel Montalbano, who has accepted a position as deputy associate administrator for the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Both positions will be effective April 7.
“Dana is an excellent choice to lead the space station program during this remarkably busy time in human spaceflight, especially aboard humanity’s home in orbit,” said Ken Bowersox, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations. “With Dana continuing her contributions to space station, Joel will bring his experience to the Space Operations directorate. NASA will continue to benefit from their human spaceflight knowledge as we maintain our unique capabilities in orbit and prepare for the future of the agency’s operations in space.”
Weigel will bring 20 years of NASA experience to her new role. She’s currently serving as the agency’s deputy program manager for the International Space Station since 2021. As program manager, Weigel will be responsible for the overall management, development, integration, and operation of the orbital complex. She also has served in a number of key positions at NASA, including as the manager of the Space Station Vehicle Office from 2014 to 2021, where she was responsible for sustaining, sparing and developing systems and payload facility hardware, managing the risks, and integrating commercial and international partner elements into the International Space Station. She served as deputy chief of the Flight Director Office from 2012 through 2014 and was a flight director from 2004 to 2014. Weigel began her career with Barrios Technology in 1994 and became a NASA civil servant in 2004.
A native of Baltimore, Weigel holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. Throughout her career, Weigel has been recognized for achievements including the Astronauts’ Silver Snoopy Award in 2002; NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2006, 2010 and 2011; Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2008; Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2010; Silver Achievement Medal in 2014; and Distinguished Service Medal in 2022. She was also recognized as a Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Stellar award recipient in 2000 and 2007.
“Dana’s depth of expertise and International Space Station Program experience will be instrumental as we continue to explore low Earth orbit for the benefit of all humanity,” said Johnson Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “On behalf of NASA Johnson, we are proud of Joel’s contributions and dedication to mission excellence and look forward to his accomplishments as Space Operations Mission Directorate’s deputy associate administrator.”
Montalbano will lend his vast experience to meet the nation’s goals of establishing a low Earth orbit economy and to maintain America’s leadership space. He has served as International Space Station Program manager since 2020. Prior to that, he was the deputy program manager since 2012. Montalbano began his career at Rockwell in June 1988 and became a NASA civil servant in August 1998, serving in a number of roles, including as a NASA flight director from 2000 to 2008.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Throughout his career, Montalbano has earned multiple NASA awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal in 2018. He received NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2003 and 2007, Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2004, and the Superior Accomplishment Award in 2007. He also was awarded the Astronauts’ Silver Snoopy Award and the American Astronomical Society’s Advancement of International Cooperation Award. In 2012, he was awarded Rank of Meritorious Executive, conferred by the President of the United States. Montalbano also has earned the Boy Scouts of America rank of Eagle Scout.
The International Space Station is a hub for scientific research and technology demonstration. NASA and its partners continue to maximize use of the space station for research, where astronauts have lived and worked continuously for more than 23 years.
The Space Operations Mission Directorate, which oversees the International Space Station Program, helps maintain a continuous human presence in space for the benefit of people on Earth. The programs within the directorate are the heart of NASA’s exploration efforts, enabling Artemis, commercial space, science, and other agency missions through communication, launch services, research capabilities, and crew support.
For more information about the International Space Station, visit:
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