Fire Acts Strangely in Microgravity. Astronauts Have Lit More Than 1,500 Fires on the Space Station to Figure Out Why

Ever since childhood, we were all told to never play with fire. Despite it being relevant to our everyday lives, to include heating our homes and water, cooking our food, producing electricity, and more, fire is extremely dangerous. We were all indoctrinated more with how to put out fires instead of how to start one. We’ve all been told about its destructive properties if mishandled, and that fire needs to be controlled. One of the perks of adulthood, and especially being a scientist, is you get paid to play with fire. Despite fire’s complexities, there’s still a lot we don’t know about its behavior. With more and more of humanity traveling to space and living in microgravity, it’s important to learn about how fire behaves in this unique environment to better prepare ourselves for worst case scenarios. But what if we could also control fire so it’s not as dangerous and less destructive to the environment back here on Earth?

Continue reading “Fire Acts Strangely in Microgravity. Astronauts Have Lit More Than 1,500 Fires on the Space Station to Figure Out Why”

Spacefaring Worms Show How Gravity Affects Genes

Image of the ISS that shows the Beta material covering the outside.

In this decade and the next, humanity is poised to go to space like never before. National space agencies will be sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era, private launch services will spearhead the commercialization of Low Earth Orbit (LEO), missions to the outer Solar System will search for evidence of extraterrestrial life, and crewed missions to Mars are on the horizon.

In preparation for this, a considerable amount of research is being done aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to determine how extended periods of time in space can affect living beings on the genetic level. In a recent experiment, a team of researchers from the University of Exeter conducted an analysis of worms on the ISS and noted “subtle changes” in their genetic makeup.

Continue reading “Spacefaring Worms Show How Gravity Affects Genes”

This is Foam, Made in Space

An early image from the ESA's Foam-Coarsening on the ISS. Image Credit: ESA

Say hello to Space Foam.

The ESA has a science lab on the International Space Station called Columbus. Inside that lab is the Fluid Science Laboratory, dedicated to studying the behaviour of fluids in microgravity. Currently, that lab is being used to study a substance most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about: foam.

Continue reading “This is Foam, Made in Space”

Cancer Seems to Have Trouble Spreading in Microgravity

The International Space Station (ISS), seen here with Earth as a backdrop. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station (ISS), seen here with Earth as a backdrop. Credit: NASA

There are a number of health risks that come with going to space. Aside from the increased exposure to solar radiation and cosmic rays, there are the notable effects that microgravity can have on human physiology. As Scott Kelly can attest, these go beyond muscle and bone degeneration and include diminished organ function, eyesight, and even changes at the genetic level.

Interestingly enough, there are also a number of potential medical benefits to microgravity. Since 2014, Dr. Joshua Choi, a senior lecturer in biomedical engineering at the University of Technology Sydney, has been investigating how microgravity affects medicine and cells in the human body. Early next year, he and his research team will be traveling to the ISS to test a new method for treating cancer that relies on microgravity.

Continue reading “Cancer Seems to Have Trouble Spreading in Microgravity”

Astronauts Try Mixing Concrete in Space

International Space Station. Credit: NASA
International Space Station. Credit: NASA

What sounds like a slap-stick comedy shtick is actually solid science. With so much of humanity’s space-faring future involving habitats, other structures, and a permanent presence on the Moon and Mars, mixing concrete in space is serious business. NASA has a program of study called MICS, (Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification) which is examining how we might build habitats or other structures in microgravity.

Continue reading “Astronauts Try Mixing Concrete in Space”