#57: 🪐 Biology in Outer Space
What can we learn from zero gravity?
💬 In this note:
🪐 Biology in Outer Space
📚 To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
⚡️ Space Traffic
#57: 🪐 Biology in Outer Space
When you look up at the night sky, you may look at the stars and wonder what’s up there.
You may think about traveling to new planets, gazing into new solar systems and dreaming about more planets like Earth.
You probably aren’t thinking about space research.
Yeah, me neither. I recently found out this is happening.
And it is so cool.
A large part of space exploration is about experimenting in space, in the elements that we don’t have here down on earth, within a vacuum or in microgravity.
On the International Space Station, there are scientific experiments happening all the time.
A complete log of all the experiments going on can be found on NASA’s website in the Space Station Research Explorer.
Experiments being conducted span across many disciplines. Everything we study on earth has the potential to be also studied in space or in synthetic microgravity.
Research fields include Earth and space science, human research to find out the risks that space poses to human health, and technology demonstration like 3D printing in space.
Even plants are taken in space to see how they tolerate space travel.
Scientists are researching physical science by exploring how to harness the properties of elements in the space environment, as things act so differently. Watch this astronaut wring out a wet washcloth.
And of course, we are studying biology and biotechnology in space.
Why use microgravity for biology experiments?
The unique environment of microgravity allows scientists to study biological processes in ways that are not possible on Earth.
Below are a few of the biology experiments happening right now on the ISS.
In a laboratory on Earth, when scientists take cells out of the body and grow them in order to do experiments, they do so on a flat surface and the cells adhere to the surface and replicate.
Without the support of the body or the organ the cells originally came from, gravity can act on them differently, making them more two dimensional.
However our bodies are three dimensional and its cells are three dimensional. So it’s possible we are missing out on key insights by studying cellular processes in a two-dimensional environment.
Microgravity is very interesting to utilize when investigating proteins. Proteins are the large molecules involved in all biological processes that support the vital activities of cells in an organism.
On Earth, we crystalize proteins in order to study their 3D structure and to find binding pockets. Locating these binding pockets allow scientists to be able to design drugs to inhibit or activate proteins and become medicines.
Proteins crystalize differently in space compared to on Earth. Scientists have found that crystals appear more ordered and are larger in size. Getting these “high-resolution” protein crystals in space can help in further determining their structure which can aid drug development.
Plants in Space
Plants exposed to environmental stress, like spaceflight, undergo changes to adapt. Whether those changes are passed down to the next plant generation is unknown.
A current experiment called “Plant-Habitat-03” will answer the question, “Can plants transfer spaceflight-driven adaptations to the next generation?”
If plants do transfer those changes, the scientists are curious to know how many times that adaptation will be passed down through the generations of plant reproduction.
The experiment will create a second generation of plants using seeds previously produced in space and returned to Earth.
The results could provide insights into how to grow multiple generations of plants to provide food on future long-term space missions.
The findings could also support development for adapting crops on Earth.
Telomeres are genetic structures that protect our chromosomes.
Telomeres shorten as we age and aging research has been investigating if we can delay or rebuild our telomeres.
However, telomeres act differently in space. Research has shown that telomeres actually lengthen in space, rather than shorten.
The phenomenon was first observed in Astronaut Scott Kelly, who was the subject of NASA’s twin study.
Genes in Space-10, an experiment designed by Pristine Onuoha a high school student from North Carolina, will seek to elucidate the mechanism behind telomere lengthening.
This experiment concludes the Genes in Space competition, a program funded by Boeing and miniPCR bio, that invited students grade 7 to 12 to design biology experiments that address real-world challenges in space exploration.
I wish they had that program when I was in school!
There is so much we can learn from the unique environment of space. Studying biology in space can not only prepare us for future space explorations but can also bring tangible benefits to human health on Earth.
Discoveries made in space can potentially unlock new medical treatments, discover new biological processes, and improve our agricultural practices on Earth.
I can’t wait to see the results from the experiments.
Who is working on it?
1️⃣ Axiom Space is building the first commercial space station, while currently using the International Space Station to do breakthrough research. They are making it easier to access space to conduct experiments so that researchers can study protein crystallization, extreme environments and even aging.
2️⃣ YuriGravity is building biology space labs that can make experimenting in space reproducible and reliable. They have also built ground simulators to create a microgravity environment here on Earth.
📚 Book of the Week
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
Author of the best-selling book Eragon and subsequent Inheritance Cycle, brings us a too-long sci-fi book about strange aliens called the jellies and the nightmares.
I think this is the first time I’ve ranked a book 1 star. I usually love sci-fi, but I did not love this sci-fi. There were times I put it down and I didn’t want to pick it back up.
Other than feeling that the book dragged along, I found it difficult to read some of the dialog between the main character, Kira, and the aliens as the dialog used alien jargon.
I don’t want to give any spoilers but the ending was just weird.
Apparently there is a sequel, “Fractal Noise.” Pass.
⚡️ Check This Out
Space traffic is growing.
2022 was a record year with 180 successful rocket launches to orbit.
Most of the launches were from SpaceX, Elon Musk’s US space company, and from the Chinese government and businesses.
SpaceX launches one of its Falcon rockets into orbit every six days throughout the year.
SpaceX launched 61 of the U.S. total of 76 rockets in 2022.
China sent up 62 rockets, triple that of Russia.
Europe on the other hand had 15 successful launches in 2021 and only 5 in 2022.
With all those launches, what’s going up into space?
SpaceX is carrying commercial payloads. They are the courier to space.
Those commercial payloads include the company’s own Starlink communication satellites, and research cargo for NASA and commercial companies like Axiom Space and Yuri Gravity, to name a few.
In addition to useful objects, a lot of space junk is being left behind.
According to a McKinsey & Co report, there are now ~20,000 pounds of junk in space, like inactive satellites, rocket parts and missile debris. Space junk can be as large as a school bus, or as small as paint chips.
Trackers have their eyes on ~30,000 objects, but there are approximately 670,000 Cheerio-sized objects capable of puncturing the International Space Station.
To prevent the more space junk, organizations like the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are already establishing guidelines for space travel, satellite deorbit, and junk removal.
Edited by Wright Time Publishing