jeudi 22 juin 2017

Crew Studies Bone Loss Reversal and Unloads New Cargo

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 22, 2017

Expedition 52 is continuing to explore a new drug therapy today that may keep humans healthier in space. The trio onboard the International Space Station also worked on standard maintenance activities to keep the orbital complex in ship-shape.

Astronauts living on the station exercise a couple of hours every day to offset the muscle and bone loss experienced in microgravity. A new injectable drug is also being explored as a way to maintain strong bones during spaceflight. Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer of NASA are testing that drug today on mice for the fifth version of the ongoing Rodent Research experiment. Rodent Research-5 is testing the drugs ability to stop and reverse bone loss in space and may help patients with bone disease on Earth.

Image above: Astronaut Peggy Whitson checks out new science gear inside the Harmony module. The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Earth-facing port of Harmony. Image Credit: NASA.

Fischer also worked on light plumbing duties and microbe sampling throughout Thursday. Whitson also worked on microbe sampling and set up life science gear ahead of a new experiment to be delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin checked out Russian life support gear and continued unloading new gear delivered last week inside the Progress 67 (67P) resupply ship. The veteran cosmonaut also repressurized the station’s atmosphere using oxygen stored inside the 67P.

Related links:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

Scientists Uncover Origins of the Sun’s Swirling Spicules

NASA - IRIS Mission patch.

June 22, 2017

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild jets of solar material burst from the sun’s surface. They erupt as fast as 60 miles per second, and can reach lengths of 6,000 miles before collapsing. These are spicules, and despite their grass-like abundance, scientists didn’t understand how they form. Now, for the first time, a computer simulation — so detailed it took a full year to run — shows how spicules form, helping scientists understand how spicules can break free of the sun’s surface and surge upward so quickly.

This work relied upon high-cadence observations from NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, and the Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope in La Palma, in the Canary Islands. Together, the spacecraft and telescope peer into the lower layers of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the interface region, where spicules form. The results of this NASA-funded study were published in Science on June 22, 2017 — a special time of the year for the IRIS mission, which celebrates its fourth anniversary in space on June 26.

Scientists Uncover Origins of Dynamic Jets on Sun's Surface

Video above: Watch the video to learn how scientists used a combination of computer simulations and observations to determine how spicules form. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng, producer.

“Numerical models and observations go hand in hand in our research,” said Bart De Pontieu, an author of the study and IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, in Palo Alto, California. “We compare observations and models to figure out how well our models are performing, and to improve the models when we see major discrepancies.”

Observing spicules has been a thorny problem for scientists who want to understand how solar material and energy move through and away from the sun. Spicules are transient, forming and collapsing over the course of just five to 10 minutes. These tenuous structures are also difficult to study from Earth, where the atmosphere often blurs our telescopes’ vision.

A team of scientists has been working on this particular model for nearly a decade, trying again and again to create a version that would create spicules. Earlier versions of the model treated the interface region, the lower solar atmosphere, as a hot gas of electrically charged particles — or more technically, a fully ionized plasma. But the scientists knew something was missing because they never saw spicules in the simulations.

The key, the scientists realized, was neutral particles. They were inspired by Earth’s own ionosphere, a region of the upper atmosphere where interactions between neutral and charged particles are responsible for many dynamic processes.

Sun’s Swirling Spicules. Image Credit: NASA

The research team knew that in cooler regions of the sun, such as the interface region, not all gas particles are electrically charged. Some particles are neutral, and neutral particles aren’t subject to magnetic fields like charged particles are. Scientists had based previous models on a fully ionized plasma in order to simplify the problem. Indeed, including the necessary neutral particles was very computationally expensive, and the final model took roughly a year to run on the Pleiades supercomputer located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and which supports hundreds of science and engineering projects for NASA missions.

The model began with a basic understanding of how plasma moves in the sun’s atmosphere. Constant convection, or boiling, of material throughout the sun generates islands of tangled magnetic fields. When boiling carries them up to the surface and farther into the sun’s lower atmosphere, magnetic field lines rapidly snap back into place to resolve the tension, expelling plasma and energy. Out of this violence, a spicule is born. But explaining how these complex magnetic knots rise and snap was the tricky part.

“Usually magnetic fields are tightly coupled to charged particles,” said Juan Martínez-Sykora, lead author of the study and a solar physicist at Lockheed Martin and the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California. “With only charged particles in the model, the magnetic fields were stuck, and couldn’t rise beyond the sun’s surface. When we added neutrals, the magnetic fields could move more freely.”

Neutral particles provide the buoyancy the gnarled knots of magnetic energy need to rise through the sun’s boiling plasma and reach the chromosphere. There, they snap into spicules, releasing both plasma and energy. Friction between ions and neutral particles heats the plasma even more, both in and around the spicules.

With the new model, the simulations at last matched observations from IRIS and the Swedish Solar Telescope; spicules occurred naturally and frequently. The 10 years of work that went into developing this numerical model earned scientists Mats Carlsson and Viggo H. Hansteen, both authors of the study from the University of Oslo in Norway, the 2017 Arctowski Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. Martínez-Sykora led the expansion of the model to include the effects of neutral particles.

Artist's concept of IRIS in Orbit. Image Credit: NASA

The scientists’ updated model revealed something else about how energy moves in the solar atmosphere. It turns out this whip-like process also naturally generates Alfvén waves, a strong kind of magnetic wave scientists suspect is key to heating the sun’s atmosphere and propelling the solar wind, which constantly bathes our solar system and planet with charged particles from the sun.

“This model answers a lot of questions we’ve had for so many years,” De Pontieu said. “We gradually increased the physical complexity of numerical models based on high-resolution observations, and it is really a success story for the approach we’ve taken with IRIS.”

The simulations indicate spicules could play a big role in energizing the sun’s atmosphere, by constantly forcing plasma out and generating so many Alfvén waves across the sun’s entire surface.

“This is a major advance in our understanding of what processes can energize the solar atmosphere, and lays the foundation for investigations with even more detail to determine how big of a role spicules play,” said Adrian Daw, IRIS mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “A very nice result on the eve of our launch anniversary.”

Related links:


IRIS Mission Overview:

New Space Weather Model Helps Simulate Magnetic Structure of Solar Storms:

IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran.

Best regards,

Jupiter’s Bands of Clouds

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

June 22, 2017

This enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s bands of light and dark clouds was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Three of the white oval storms known as the “String of Pearls” are visible near the top of the image. Each of the alternating light and dark atmospheric bands in this image is wider than Earth, and each rages around Jupiter at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour. The lighter areas are regions where gas is rising, and the darker bands are regions where gas is sinking.

Juno acquired the image on May 19, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. PST (2:30 p.m. EST) from an altitude of about 20,800 miles (33,400 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops.

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at:

More information about Juno is at: and

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran.


The White Cliffs of 'Rover'

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

June 22, 2017

This image was acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 18, 2017, at 14:04 local Mars time. It reminded the HiRISE team of the rugged and open terrain of a stark shore-line, perhaps of the British Isles. A close-up in enhanced color produces a striking effect, giving the impression of a cloud-covered cliff edge with foamy waves crashing against it.

The reality is that the surface of Mars is much dryer than our imaginations might want to suggest. This is only a tiny part of a much larger structure; an inverted crater—a crater that has been infilled by material that is more resistant to erosion than the rocks around it—surrounded by bluish basaltic dunes. The edge of these elevated light-toned deposits are degraded, irregular and cliff-forming.

Dunes visible below the cliff, give the impression of an ocean surface, complete with foam capped waves crashing against the “shore line,” demonstrating the abstract similarity between the nature of a turbulent ocean and a Martian dune field.

Meridiani Planum has an overall smooth terrain, which starkly contrasts with the more common boulder- and crater-laden landscapes observed over much of the rest of Mars. This makes it relatively younger in character than many other areas of the planet. Meridiani is one of the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites, and, is known for its layers and sediments. The orbital detection of hematite was one of the main reasons for sending Opportunity to this area.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

Salt-bearing rocks—also called sulphates—were observed in the very first image from Opportunity, so perhaps it’s apt that this HiRISE image reminds us of the turmoil and rugged beauty of a cliff-face, a coastline, being worn down by a relentless sea.

More information and image products: HiRISE website:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images, Text,  Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff/JPL/University of Arizona/Caption: Jon Kissi, Livio L. Tornabene, Zach Morse, Eric Pilles and Gavin Tolometti.


Laser-targeting A.I. Yields More Mars Science

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

June 22, 2017

Artificial intelligence is changing how we study Mars.

A.I. software on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft. This same software has proven useful enough that it's already scheduled for NASA's upcoming mission, Mars 2020.

A new paper in Science: Robotics looks at how the software has performed since rolling out to Curiosity's science team in May 2016. The AEGIS software, or Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, has been used to direct Curiosity's ChemCam instrument 54 times since then. It's used on almost every drive when the power resources are available for it, according to the paper's authors.

The vast majority of those uses involved selecting targets to zap with ChemCam's laser, which vaporizes small amounts of rock or soil and studies the gas that burns off. Spectrographic analysis of this gas can reveal the elements that make up each laser target.

Image above: This is how AEGIS sees the Martian surface. All targets found by the A.I. program are outlined: blue targets are rejected, while red are retained. The top-ranked target is shaded green; if there's a second-ranked target, it's shaded orange. These NavCam images have been contrast-balanced. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

AEGIS allows the rover to get more science done while Curiosity's human controllers are out of contact. Each day, they program a list of commands for it to execute based on the previous day's images and data. If those commands include a drive, the rover may reach new surroundings several hours before it is able to receive new instructions. AEGIS allows it to autonomously zap rocks that scientists may want to investigate later.

"Time is precious on Mars," said lead author Raymond Francis of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Francis is the lead system engineer for AEGIS' deployment on the Curiosity rover. "AEGIS allows us to make use of time that otherwise wasn't available because we were waiting for someone on Earth to make a decision."

AEGIS has helped the science team discover a number of interesting minerals. On separate occasions, higher quantities of chlorine and silica were discovered in nearby rocks -- information that helped direct science planning the following day.

"The goal is to provide more information for the science team," said Tara Estlin of JPL, co-author and team lead for AEGIS. "AEGIS has increased the total data coming from ChemCam by operating during times when the rover would otherwise just be waiting for a command."

Before AEGIS was implemented, this downtime was so valuable that the rover was instructed to carry out "blind" targeting of ChemCam. As it was carrying out commands, it would also fire the laser, just to see if it would gather interesting data. But the targeting was limited to a pre-programmed angle, since there was no onboard ability to search for a target.

"Half the time it would just hit soil -- which was also useful, but rock measurements are much more interesting to our scientists," Francis said.

Curiosity ChemCam's laser in action. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With the intelligent targeting AEGIS affords, Curiosity can be given parameters for very specific kinds of rocks, defined by color, shape and size. The software uses computer vision to search out edges in the landscape; if it detects enough edges, there's a good chance it has found a distinct object, Francis said.

Then the software can rank, filter and prioritize those objects based on the characteristics the science team is looking for.

AEGIS can also be used for fine-scale pointing -- what Francis calls "pointing insurance." When Curiosity's operators aren't quite confident they'll hit a very narrow vein in a rock on the first try, they sometimes use this ability to fine-tune the pointing, though it only came up twice in the past year.

The upcoming Mars 2020 rover will also include AEGIS, which will be included in the next-generation version of ChemCam, called SuperCam. That instrument will also be able to use AEGIS for a remote RAMAN spectrometer that can study the crystal structures of rocks, as well as a visible and infrared spectrometer.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico leads the U.S. and French team that jointly developed and operates ChemCam. IRAP is a co-developer and shares operation of the instrument with France's national space agency (CNES), NASA and Los Alamos. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Curiosity mission for NASA.

Related links:

Curiosity's ChemCam:

Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Andrew Good.


mercredi 21 juin 2017

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of June 12, 2017

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 21, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

(Highlights: Week of June 12, 2017) - Crew members on the International Space Station installed a recently-delivered science payload that will provide a unique vantage point for Earth observation.

The Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) will provide opportunities for imaging payloads supporting research, scientific studies and humanitarian efforts for both government and commercial customers. When fully installed, the MUSES platform will provide a location for Earth-viewing instruments such as high-resolution digital cameras and hyperspectral imagers. It can accommodate up to four payloads simultaneously, and can be robotically serviced or upgraded. MUSES includes a server on the station that can store and transmit data from the payloads back to Earth for a variety of uses including disaster response, maritime domain awareness, agricultural applications, air and water quality, mining and atmospheric investigations.

Image above: Space Center Houston, the official visitors center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, hosted an amateur radio connection with International Space Station crew member Jack Fischer. Image Credit: NASA.

After a thorough check-out of a platform for Earth observation, crew members deployed an investigation looking into deep space. The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) studies the physics into the glowing cinders left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas. Neutron stars consist of ultra-dense matter that may eventually collapse to a black hole. The nature of this matter cannot be produced in a laboratory and the cosmic rays produced by the phenomena do not penetrate Earth's atmosphere.

Neutron stars are also known as pulsars due to the pattern of X-rays emanating from the explosion. These pulses are reliable as atomic clocks in keeping accurate time, which is essential for accurate deep space navigation. Pulsar navigation could work similarly to GPS navigation on Earth, providing precise positioning for spacecraft throughout the solar system. The NICER investigation also enables new studies of sources of X-rays, advancing scientific understanding, education and technical development for the benefit of people on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson works on media exchanges for the Cardiac Stem Cells investigation on the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members replaced some hardware to continue investigations using the Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA) in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) on the space station. The MDCA is used to perform combustion tests using small droplets of various fuels to see how they burn in microgravity. Another round of combustion investigation will begin in the coming weeks to study the most efficient fuels that we could use on Earth and for missions to deep space.

Space to Ground: A NICER Look: 06/16/2017

Video above: NASA's Space to Ground is a weekly update on what is happening on the International Space Station. Social media users can post with #spacetoground to ask questions or make a comment. Video Credit: NASA.

Other investigations showing progress this week included Cardiac Stem Cells, Rodent Research-5, Body Measures, Neuromapping, SPRINT and LMM Biophysics.

Related links:

Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES):

Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

Cardiac Stem Cells:

Rodent Research-5:

Body Measures:



LMM Biophysics:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 51 & 52.

Best regards,

CASIS Partnership Brings “Organs-on-Chips” Research to Space Station

ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 21, 2017

Models of human disease are beneficial for medical research, but have limitations in predicting the way a drug will behave within the human body using data from non-human models because of inherent differences between species. Many medications produce unexpected outcomes in the clinical trial stage using human subjects, despite success in animal models and even 2-D cell culture models using human cells. The “Organs-on-Chips” approach to human physiology research aboard the International Space Station may lead to more reliable and predictable results for drug development and reduce the need for animal testing.

Five recently announced research projects funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), will soon bring “Organs-on-Chips” research to the orbiting laboratory. 

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Conducting biomedical investigations within the space station’s unique microgravity environment allows researchers to study cells as they grow in 3-D, rather than in the 2-D lab environment on Earth where gravity forces cells in culture to flatten against plastic walls. In addition to the advantages of growing cells into 3-D tissues, cell cultures will also be observed for changes in gene expression, cell communication, and patterns of differentiation that may lead to changes in organs and other body systems.

The research projects include:

- Lung Host Defense in Microgravity (George Worthen, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

- Organs-on-Chips as a Platform for Study the Effects of Microgravity on Human Physiology: Blood-Brain Barrier-Chip in Health and Disease (Christopher Hinojosa, Emulate, Inc.)

- Cartilage-Bone-Synovium Microphysiological System: Musculoskeletal Disease Biology in Space (Alan Grondzinsky, MIT)

- Microgravity as a Model for Immunological Senescense and its Impact on Tissue Stem Cells and Regeneration (Sonja Schrepfer, UCSF)

- Effects of Microgravity on the Structure and Function of Proximal and Distal Tubule Microphysiological System (Jonathan Himmelfarb, U of Washington)

Partnerships like the one between CASIS and NCATS at NIH provide scientists and engineers the unique opportunity to fly their science in space, furthering ground research and bringing space closer to home than ever.

 “The International Space Station is a unique platform for research innovation capable of benefitting life on Earth, but it also has the ability to foster valuable partnerships that enable experimentation for a variety of investigators,” said Patrick O’Neill, marketing and communications manager at CASIS.

“This partnership with the NCATS is part of a multi-year collaboration that will provide investigators the resources required to enhance this burgeoning new research discipline some 250 miles above Earth.”

For more information about the Organs-on-Chips research projects, take a look at the CASIS announcement here. Follow along with the science happening aboard the orbiting laboratory on Twitter at

Related links:

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS):

Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS): http://casis/

National Institutes of Health (NIH):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/ Kristine Rainey/JSC/Jenny Howard.