Signaling an exciting next step for the scientists, more than 1,000 tubes of blood, urine and saliva have come back on the Earth from the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX-8 Dragon capsule.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth from their year-long mission aboard the orbiting laboratory but many of the samples critical to the continuation of research have only just made their way back to labs this week.
“(It’s) like Christmas in May, with frost to boot,” said Scott M. Smith, principal investigator of the Biochemical Profile probe at NASA.
After being collected in space, crew members store the samples in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI).
The tubes are transferred to either powered freezers or insulated coolers with special ice packs which are then packed inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule to be returned to Earth.
“SpaceX provides our primary capability for sample return, allowing us to bring home freezer bags and powered freezers containing samples,” said Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the space station.
“Samples coming home on Space-X include samples from a variety of human experiments, most notably blood, urine and saliva collected from the crew for the One-Year Mission and Twins Study,” Robinson added.
Studies supported by the samples coming back in this batch include Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study. A point of contact for each study was on hand to receive the samples from JSC’s Cold Stowage team.
Until now, scientists’ data have described the effects of spaceflight from the typical six-month missions to the space station but data from the “One-Year Mission” samples will change that.
This will be NASA’s first glimpse at the effects of space travel which start to approach that which scientists might expect from a Mars mission.
The data may provide clues as to whether we can expect more, or more extreme, changes as mission duration increases.
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“With these samples, we will have pilot data to understand spaceflight effects on and linkages between genetic expression, protein expression and physiology, improving our understanding of the cardiovascular system in space as well as astronauts’ ophthalmologic issues,” explained Stuart Lee, principal investigator for the Cardio Ox and Cardio Ox Twins investigations.