Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the Zero Gravity Solutions video, “Profits From Orbit.”
The International Space Station may be destroyed in Gravity, but in the reality-based world the ISS is starting to receive notice for its microgravity research.
A Huffington Post article titled “Climate Change, Food, and Hope” suggests that ISS research may lead to “a quantum leap in food production.”
A quantum leap in food production, while keeping the soil nutrient-rich, will be critical to our future survival, as the global population will grow to 9 billion by 2050 and perhaps 12 billion by 2100. A 2008 Pew Study estimates the U.S. residential population will explode from 330 million today to 438 million by middle of this century. With more than 50 percent of the world's population living in urban cities — we crossed that threshold last year — expected to surge to 75 percent in the next generation, where will the next sea change come from?
Can technology development in our space program contribute to the answer?
The zero gravity (aka microgravity) environment of the International Space Station now seems to hold some of those answers in low earth orbit.
The solution is right out of a sci-fi novel. And yet it's not. Add a sprinkling of Darwin at the speed of light and we take a major step closer understanding this quantum change.
According to the Huffington Post article:
By awakening dozens of dormant genes in fruit, plant, vegetable, and cultured cells, Zero Gravity Solutions' technology accelerates gene expression in evolution at warp speed. In short, they are leveraging Darwin's process of natural selection. Once those latent genes have revealed themselves, they are brought back down to earth, literally, planted in the soil and grow in ways that their earth-bound counterparts could only dream of.
A Billings, Montana high school student works on the electronics for an algae experiment sent to the International Space Station through NASA's HUNCH program. Image source: Billings Gazette.
Back on August 11, the Billings Gazette ran an article titled, “Central Students' Algae Experiment Headed for International Space Station.”. Local students were able to send their experiment to the ISS thanks to the NASA HUNCH program.
To quote from the NASA HUNCH web site:
HUNCH is an instructional partnership between NASA and high schools and intermediate/middle schools. This partnership benefits both NASA and students. NASA receives cost-effective hardware, while students receive real-world hands-on experiences. A spin-off of this teaming is the inspiration of the next generation of researchers and space explorers.
NASA provides materials, equipment and mentoring that is required to fabricate the items. NASA also provides quality inspection oversight during the fabrication of these items.
The Billings Central Catholic High School students designed and built an experiment to test how well algae grows — and how much carbon dioxide it consumes — in a microgravity environment.
According to the Gazette article:
The group from Central — James Dilts, Kylee Hrban, Nathan Heldt and Laura Westwood — decided they'd tackle the problem of oxygen. So far, the best way to have breathable oxygen in space is to bring it in big canisters.
That's expensive and labor-intensive.
The students figured, if they could find a way to produce oxygen in space, that might mitigate the problem. So they focused on algae.
“It's a single-cell organism,” said James Dilts, Stuart's older brother. “It's not a plant.”
Still, like big plants, algae uses photosynthesis to produce food and, in turn, expels a lot of oxygen. And as a single-celled organism, it could grow small in a petri dish, which is where the group started.
The students received a $30,000 grant from Space Coast-based CASIS, the Center for Advancement of Science in Space.
Over in Alabama, the Huntsville Times ran an article on October 25 titled, “Five Questions on the Key Space Science of Protein Crystals, Starring NASA and UAB.” UAB is the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The five questions were posed to Dr. Larry DeLucas, a former NASA payload specialist who is now the Director of the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering at UAB.
In the July 31 blog article I wrote about five medical discoveries thanks to microgravity research, I mentioned the Hepatitis-C treatment that came from protein crystallization research on the doomed STS-107 Columbia flight. Dr. DeLucas designed the bottles that carried the experiment by Dr. Paul Reichert of Schering Plough, now Merck.
Here's one of the five questions in the Times article:
Q: How can scientists who believe in protein crystallization in space persuade their colleagues the space station is worth the time and trouble to get there?
A: “If we could have a box here on Earth that created microgravity (for growing crystals), everyone would be doing it, because we know we can get better crystals with it. But we can't. The unfortunate thing with the space station is we don't have constant access. I would love to see five commercial companies providing constant access at a reasonably low price so we could always be doing it up there. If they can do that with these commercial groups, then you might have, in this one science area, a reason for having a space station. But if you only do it once every two years, it's not good. You need to have constant access.”
As I've written many times, this is where the Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitats will come into play.
Click the arrow to watch on YouTube a computer animation of the BEAM arriving at the ISS in 2015. Video source: NASA.
A demonstration version, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, will be sent to the ISS in 2015. It will be there for two years to demonstrate the technology.
Bigelow hopes to launch the full-scale habitats once the commercial crew vehicles complete their NASA certification circa 2017.
That's when the real fun begins, because both nations and private companies will be able to send researchers with experiments to the habitats. Dr. DeLucas' “constant access” will become a reality.
In closing ... Wrapping up this week will be the best of the top ten Space Station research results, posted by ISS Program Scientist Julie Robinson over the last two weeks on the A Lab Aloft blog.