Quail eggs, cancer cells and dirty paintings: NASA unveils space station study findings

NASA has published a report (PDF) detailing more than 100 experiments carried out on the International Space Station between 2000 and 2008.

Most of the research was based around the priority of making extended time in space safer and more comfortable for astronauts. However, some of the findings may also have uses on Earth. For example, the absence of gravity made it far easier to test a new technique using liquid-filled capsules the size of a blood cell; that technique could eventually be used to deliver medicine directly to cancer cells.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was that germs are better able to cause disease during spaceflight, with Salmonella typhimurium being particularly virulent. Given the risk food poisoning brings, future experiments will deal with the need to create a vaccine.

Among the other studies and findings were the following:

  • Research into producing smoke alarms for the space station found ways to more accurately distinguish between smoke and natural dust particles produced by the presence of humans.
  • Testing various materials to see how much their temperatures varied when held in a special case outside the spaceship (pictured) could help refine the production of protective suits worn for spacewalks.
  • The absence of gravity allowed researchers to more easily develop proteins. This gives scientists back on earth more detail of those proteins which could help develop more effective treatment for diseases which affect human proteins.
  • Examining quail embryos and other avian eggs in space told researchers more about the way space travel might affect the human skeleton.
  • Liver cells appear to metabolize at a slower rate in space than on Earth, which may affect the appropriate dosage of drugs among astronauts.
  • Astronauts carrying out space walks are exposed to increased levels of radiation, but the change is insignificant.
  • The knee joint is less effective in space, which affects the action of muscles in the leg and may require changes to astronauts’ exercise regimes.
  • Having astronauts write at least three journal entries a week and then analyzing the entries for both content and tone may be a particularly effective way of tracking emotional and psychological effects and issues.
  • Findings about the corrosive qualities of the atomic form of oxygen have now been used on Earth to improve the cleaning of bones to be used in surgical implants and in the restoration of paintings.

The full report, which while dealing with technical subjects is refreshingly clearly written and is available right here (PDF).

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