While floating through space on the International Space Station, astronauts have a lot of time on their hands. Rather than hanging around all day and doing nothing, they fill their days conducting research on the ISS, some which seem like they could be inspired by a cartoon mad scientist. However, while some of their projects have the distinction of being futuristically bizarre, many also have far-reaching medical implications.
Most of the experiments on the International Space Station are aimed at helping astronauts on long-term missions complete their goals without putting themselves into life-and-death scenarios. Studying human lungs in space, testing bone health in zero gravity, and even cultivating microgardens are all part of an astronaut's daily activities aboard the ISS.
Although some of the experiments may sound like they’re being carried out to give astronauts something to do when they’re not marveling at the vast expanse of darkness around their space station, there is a vital research component to astronauts living in space, and we all may one day benefit from it.
Astronauts Are Using Real Human Lungs To Study Regenerative Tissue In Space
In 2017, tissue from a human lung was brought to the ISS so researchers aboard the space station could attempt to grow a fully functioning copy of the organ. If they manage to grow an actual lung, scientists will be able to study the effects of space travel on human lungs in real time. This study won't just show astronauts what's happening inside their bodies; it also has far reaching implications in the realm of regenerative medicine.
Joan Nichols, an associate director for research at the University of Texas Medical Branch who is helming the Earth based portion of the study said that the experiment will be used to
...test strategies for growing new lung tissue, and will assist Earth-based efforts to develop complex bioengineered tissue that can be used to repair damaged organs or reduce organ rejection in the future.
Astronauts Are Storing Freeze-Dried Reproductive Materials From Mice To Study Reproduction In Space
It's inevitable that at some point the first baby born in space is going to manifest. But before astronauts can mate in the ISS they have find to out how space radiation affects mammalian reproduction. At the moment researchers are bringing freeze-dried mouse sperm to the ISS which is held for a period of up to one or two years. After the sperm stays on board for its cycle it's brought back to Earth in order to fertilize mouse eggs that have never left Earth.
As weird as this may sound, it's a necessary test in order to find out if humans can sustain life on a long-term mission. So far there has been considerable DNA breakdown in the sperm after nine months on the ISS, but researchers are hoping to improve on those numbers.
Astronauts Are Joining SpaceX To Help Clean Up The Galaxy
In April 2018, Elon Musk's SpaceX sent a “proof of concept” machine to the International Space Station called RemoveDEBRIS that's meant to help astronauts get rid of a lot of the junk that's floating through space. Before the experimental spacecraft will get to the job of hoovering up the more than 500,000 pieces of debris that are in space, a series of tests will have to be performed on the module, but it is projected to be ready by the end of May 2018.
RemoveDEBRIS will be the largest satellite ever released from the ISS once it has been launched, and after it finishes its mission, the machine won't become the space trash that it so thoroughly hates, but instead will gracefully fall to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.
Astronauts Are Growing Second Heads On Flatworms While Studying Regenerative Tissue
Don't you hate it when you're experimenting on a flat worm in outer space and it suddenly grows two heads? That's what happened after researchers sent flatworms into space to study how the regenerative properties of flatworms are affected by microgravity and fluctuations in the geomagnetic field.
After the worms returned to Earth, they were compared to a collection of unlucky flatworms who never left the planet. After cutting off a piece of one of the space worms, researchers noted that it began to sprout a second head. Aside from regenerating at an alarming rate, the flatworms from space were also put into a state of shock once they were back on Earth. Researchers noted that the worms were "paralyzed and immobile" for up to two hours after they were reintroduced to the Earth's atmosphere.