NASA Preps to Launch Astronauts on Mission to Study Microgravity

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission is ready to send more astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. 

The four astronauts include NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and, in a first for the Commercial Crew Program, two international partners, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

The Crew-2 astronauts will join the other members of Expedition 65, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos, for a six-month mission conducting science experiments in low-Earth orbit.

Astronaut Kate Rubin conducts testing on Cardinal Heart tissue chip investigation – NASA- Courtesy

An important scientific focus on this expedition is continuing a series of Tissue Chips in Space studies. Tissue chips are small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body.

These chips may make it possible to identify safe and effective therapeutics – drugs or vaccines – much more quickly than the standard process. In addition, many changes occurring in the human body during spaceflight resemble the onset and progression of aging and diseases on Earth but occur much more quickly in microgravity. Scientists use specialized tissue chips in space to model diseases that affect specific organs in the human body but that might take months or years to develop on Earth.

Tissue chips are one aspect of tissue engineering, which uses a combination of cells, engineering, and materials to restore, maintain, improve, or replace biological tissues. Tissues engineered on Earth require some sort of scaffold on which to grow and can only reach a thickness of at most 1 centimeter, or just over a quarter inch. But in microgravity, rather than growing in a flat layer, cells can grow into three dimensions that closely mimic tissues in the body.

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