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ISS/Kibo Monthly News

ISS/Kibo Monthly News: February, 2017

Last Updated: March 16, 2017

Topic of the Month

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Mission reporting by Astronaut Onishi

Astronaut Takuya Onishi holds a mission reporting event

On February 21, Astronaut Takuya Onishi held a mission reporting event for the general public in Tokyo. Prior to the reporting, JAXA President Naoki Okumura gave an opening speech, followed by a guest speech by Taizo Tanose, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

Part 1: Mission report

In airing the mission highlight video, Onishi described his many experiences, such as being launched aboard the Soyuz rocket, the deployment of CubeSats through Kibo's airlock, using the ISS robotic arm to capture the Cygnus spacecraft, engaging in science activities, daily life in space, the view of Earth from the ISS, returning to the ground, and post-flight rehabilitation.

In particular, Onishi explained the tasks that he considers to be his remarkable achievements. Onishi covered the onboard rearing of 12 mice for 35 days in space. He stated that six mice each were reared under two different gravity environments of artificial gravity (1G) and microgravity (μG), in order to compare the different levels of gravity, and that all the mice were returned to Earth in a live condition.

Next, he introduced Japan's specialty Protein Crystal Growth (JAXA PCG) experiment and explained why high-quality crystals can be made in microgravity, and that analyzing the structures of protein crystals may lead to the discovery of new medicinal drugs.

Regarding the ISS operations, he reminisced about the capture of the Cygnus spacecraft and revealed that the task was just like maneuvering an airplane, and taking great pleasure in being assigned that task so that he could demonstrate his area of specialty.

Part 2: Interview with Astronaut Onishi and Kibo Flight Director Yurika Nakano

Part 2: Interview with Onishi and Nakano

Part 2 was proceeded by a moderator interviewing Onishi and Kibo Flight Director Yurika Nakano in regard to various questions collected from the general public beforehand. They introduced some successful tasks where Onishi and the ground team earned mutual trust and cooperated to overcome difficulties, which sometimes included inside stories.

Given his career as an airplane co-pilot, Onishi stressed the importance of sharing and discussing onboard mistakes or failures with the ground team, so as to prevent any recurrence.

Nakano discussed that the success of daily operations depends on how well they are prepared, stressing the importance of preparation and rehearsal. Finally, Onishi and Nakano responded with smiles in that both astronauts and flight directors are unspectacular jobs that require continuous preparations.

Part 3: Talk session

Part 3: Talk session

In Part 3 of the talk session, Onishi was joined by an NHK news commentator serving as moderator, JAXA personnel, and Prof. Satoru Takahashi of the University of Tsukuba, representing the users of Kibo, and discussed why the ISS is necessary for human beings and specifically Japan's need for Kibo. They further discussed how Kibo could enhance its value to improve our life.

Mission Results of Astronaut Takuya Onishi's long duration stay at the ISS

Kibo This Month

First combustion experiment begins in Kibo

Flame spread in microgravity (MP4 short movie, no sound)

A combustion experiment titled "Elucidation of Flame Spread and Group Combustion Excitation Mechanism of Randomly Distributed Droplet Clouds (Group Combustion)" began on February 17. This is the first combustion experiment conducted in the Kibo module. This experiment observes how a flame spreads over randomly distributed droplet clouds in microgravity.

Verifying the hypothesis that governs the spreading rate of a flame and the marginal spreading distance will allow the results to be applied to more sophisticated numerical simulations used to develop various engines that atomize and burn fuels, and may enable the effective development of new hardware.

This experiment is being conducted in the Group Combustion Experiment Module (GCEM) installed in the Work Volume (WV) of the Multi-purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR), and researchers can observe the spread of flame over droplet clouds consisting of more than 150 fuel droplets arranged on a two-dimensional grid.

Protein crystallization at 4℃ begins

The first samples of Low Temperature Protein Crystal Growth (LTPCG#1) were delivered to the ISS by the Dragon spacecraft (SpaceX CRS-10), and crystallization began in Kibo.

Protein crystallization on the ground is normally conducted at 4℃ or 20℃. In space, JAXA has conducted protein crystallization at 20℃ for a long time. To meet the growing demand for utilization, a technological demonstration of crystallization at 4℃ was conducted in 2016. Finally, the first experiment was realized aboard the U.S. cargo spacecraft.

U.S. and Russian cargo spacecraft can now be used to transport protein samples, thereby increasing more experiment opportunities and enabling flexible sample selections. Moreover, crystallization at 4℃ realizes the crystallization of candidate drugs having high demand, such as unstable hydrosoluble proteins and membrane proteins.

The first samples will be collected upon the return of the Dragon spacecraft.

Research on the effects of probiotics on the immune system and intestinal microbiota of astronauts

Yakult Honsha Co., Ltd. (Yakult) and JAXA have been conducting joint research on the effects of probiotics* on the human immune system and intestinal microbiota in a microgravity environment since 2014.

*Probiotics: "Live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit for the host" (FAO/WHO, 2001)

Preparations were made to begin the first ever experiment on the consecutive consumption of probiotics by crewmembers on the ISS, based on the outcomes of ground-based research activities and the storage test of capsules containing freeze-dried live probiotic bacteria onboard the ISS.

Yakult and JAXA will initiate the experiment in 2017, which marks the first scientific study on the effects caused by the consecutive consumption of probiotics on the human immune system and intestinal microbiota of astronauts staying on the ISS for long periods of time.

ISS This Month

Launch of the Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX CRS-10 approaching the ISS (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

The Dragon spacecraft (SpaceX CRS-10) was launched on February 19 from the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, and then arrived at the ISS on February 23. Dragon delivered about 2,500 kg of supplies and payloads, including JAXA's second FROST (Freezer-Refrigerator Of STirling cycle 2) and samples of the LTPCG experiment.

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