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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
After months aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 is returning to Earth. NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli and Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov each completed their first spaceflight. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen each completed their second spaceflight.
During their time on the station, Crew-7 conducted science experiments and technology demonstrations to benefit people on Earth and prepare humans for future space missions. Here’s a look at some scientific milestones accomplished during their mission:
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The Human Body in Space
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen processes blood samples for the Immunity Assay investigation, which monitors the impact of spaceflight on immune function. Prior to the experiment, scientists could only test the immune function before and after flight. Taking samples while on station provides scientists a clearer assessment of changes to the immune system during spaceflight.
NASA Since physiological changes in microgravity can resemble how the human body ages on Earth, scientists can use the space station for age-related studies. NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli collects cell samples inside the Life Science Glovebox for Space AGE, a study to understand how microgravity-induced age-like changes affect liver regeneration. Results could boost our understanding of aging and its effects on disease mechanisms.
NASA JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa exercises with ARED Kinematics, a device that mimics forces generated when lifting free weights on Earth. The experiment assesses the current exercise programs on station to understand the most effective countermeasures to maintain muscle and bone strength.
NASA Safe Water
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen works on ESA’s Aquamembrane-3 technology demonstration, which tests a special membrane to eliminate contaminants from wastewater. The membrane incorporates proteins called aquaporins, found in biological cells, and may be able to filter water using less energy. An aquaporin membrane-based system could improve water reclamation and reduce materials needed for future deep space missions.
NASA NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli prepares a water sample for DNA sequencing using the EHS BioMole Facility, a technology demonstration used to monitor microbes in water samples aboard a spacecraft. Future exploration missions will need to analyze water to ensure it is safe for crews to drink while far from Earth.
NASA Growing Food on Station
Tomato seedlings sprout in the space station’s Advanced Plant Habitat. At the beginning of Crew-7’s mission, Plant Habitat-03 wrapped up a months-long experiment that tests whether epigenetics are passed to subsequent generations. Epigenetic changes involve the addition of extra information to DNA, which regulates how genes turn on or off but does not change the sequence of the DNA itself. Crew-7 also grew tomatoes for Plant Habitat-06, which investigates how the plant immune functions adapt to spaceflight and how spaceflight affects plant production.
NASA BioNutrients completed five years of demonstrating technology to produce nutrients on demand aboard the space station. Since vitamins can degrade over time, the investigation used engineered microbes to test generating fresh nutrient supply for future long-duration missions.
NASA Outside the Station
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa retrieves MISSE-17 hardware after the experiment spent six months outside the station. MISSE experiments expose materials and organisms to the space environment to analyze performance and durability. Crew-7 installed MISSE-18, which houses several materials including printed quantum dots arrays used to make a miniaturized and ultra-compact spectrometer.
NASA CubeSats deployed from the space station are a lower-cost alternative to traditional satellites. Crew-7 deployed two CubeSats from Japanese schools, including BEAK CubeSat, which tests novel technologies for future nano-sized planetary probes and Clark sat-1, which transmits voice and imagery data to ground control stations on Earth.
NASA Picture Perfect
Using handheld digital cameras, astronauts capture images of the Earth below. This imagery is used by researchers across disciplines from glaciology to ecology. A Crew-7 member captured this image of the Aladaghlar Mountains in northwest Iran, where the convergent boundary of the Arabia and Eurasia tectonic plates created folds in the landscape over millions of years.
NASA These bright red streaks above a thundercloud on Earth are a rare phenomenon known as red sprites. Red sprites happen above the clouds and are not easily studied from Earth. This image was captured on the space station with a high-speed camera for the Thor-Davis experiment. Imagery collected from the station is instrumental in studying the effects of thunderstorms and electrical activity on Earth’s climate and atmosphere.
ESA Biology on Station
Recent spaceflight experiments found individual animal cells can sense the effects of gravity. Cell Gravisensing investigation from JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) seeks to understand how cells can do this. JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa uses a microscope to examine cells during spaceflight and document cell responses to microgravity. Understanding the mechanisms of cell gravity sensing could contribute to new drug development.
NASA NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli works in the BioFabrication Facility (BFF), which bioprints organ-like tissues in microgravity. During the Crew-7 mission, BFF-Cardiac tested bioprinting and processing cardiac tissue samples. This experiment could help to advance technology to support the development of biological patches to replace damaged tissues and potentially entire muscles.
NASA Special Delivery
Two commercial spacecraft visited during Crew-7’s time in space bringing critical science, hardware, and supplies to the station: SpaceX Dragon in November 2023 and Northop Grumman’s Cygnus in February 2024.
NASA NASA Andrea Lloyd
International Space Station Program Research Office
Johnson Space Center
Search this database of scientific experiments to learn more about those mentioned above.
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SpaceX and NASA recently performed full-scale qualification testing of the docking system that will connect SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System (HLS) with Orion and later Gateway in lunar orbit during future crewed Artemis missions. Based on the flight-proven Dragon 2 active docking system, the Starship HLS docking system will be able to act as an active or passive system during docking.SpaceX As part of NASA’s Artemis campaign that will establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon, crew will need to move between different spacecraft to carry out lunar landings. NASA and SpaceX recently performed qualification testing for the docking system that will help make that possible.
For the Artemis III mission, astronauts will ride the Orion spacecraft from Earth to lunar orbit, and then once the two spacecraft are docked, move to the lander, the Starship Human Landing System (HLS) that will bring them to the surface. After surface activities are complete, Starship will return the astronauts to Orion waiting in lunar orbit. During later missions, astronauts will transfer from Orion to Starship via the Gateway lunar space station. Based on SpaceX’s flight-proven Dragon 2 docking system used on missions to the International Space Station, the Starship docking system can be configured to connect the lander to Orion or Gateway.
The docking system tests for Starship HLS were conducted at NASA’s Johnson Space Center over 10 days using a system that simulates contact dynamics between two spacecraft in orbit. The testing included more than 200 docking scenarios, with various approach angles and speeds. These real-world results using full-scale hardware will validate computer models of the Moon lander’s docking system.
This dynamic testing demonstrated that the Starship system could perform a “soft capture” while in the active docking role. When two spacecraft dock, one vehicle assumes an active “chaser” role while the other is in a passive “target” role. To perform a soft capture, the soft capture system (SCS) of the active docking system is extended while the passive system on the other spacecraft remains retracted. Latches and other mechanisms on the active docking system SCS attach to the passive system, allowing the two spacecraft to dock.
Since being selected as the lander to return humans to the surface of the Moon for the first time since Apollo, SpaceX has completed more than 30 HLS specific milestones by defining and testing hardware needed for power generation, communications, guidance and navigation, propulsion, life support, and space environments protection.
Under NASA’s Artemis campaign, the agency will land the first woman, first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the lunar surface, and prepare for human expeditions to Mars for the benefit of all. Commercial human landing systems are critical to deep space exploration, along with the Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, advanced spacesuits and rovers, exploration ground systems, and the Gateway space station.
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Jenalane (Rowe) Strawn
Marshall Space Flight Center
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