This month in orbit: space science in May

Science and research


Vital research on health, climate, materials and more continues with ESA astronaut Samantha Christophoretti and colleagues aboard the space station this month. Keep up with what was on their schedule with May’s summary of space science.

On May 6, 2022, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer returned to Earth, floating in the Gulf of Mexico and marking the end of his Cosmic Kiss mission, although post-flight discussions and scientific data collection continue.

ESA astronaut Samantha Christophoretti Minerva’s mission continues on the International Space Station. And this month, she is working with colleagues from around the world to conduct an even more exciting science that will benefit us here on Earth. Here is a summary of some of the highlights for this month.

Understanding the body

Exploring the ways in which microgravity affects the health of our astronauts is a very important part of research aboard the space station. This not only allows us to safely continue the sustainable human presence in space, but also gives a unique picture of health conditions – and potential treatments – back to Earth.

This month, Samantha and her NASA colleague Kel Lindgren conducted measurements for the acoustic diagnostic experiment. This study aims to examine the effects of noise aboard the space station and microgravity on hearing. Using specialized equipment, researchers can see how otoacoustic emissions (small sounds from the ear) can change over time in a noisy environment.

Astronauts’ hearing test Space kiss

The team also collected data for the ongoing experiment on muscle tone in space, Myotones. Astronauts train on fitness equipment designed for space for at least an hour and a half a day to keep their muscles in great shape, even without gravity. The Myotones study examines the biochemical properties of muscles during space flight and may lead to new rehabilitation techniques for both astronauts and the rest of us here on Earth.

To keep an eye on the Earth

Despite some minor technical issues, the collection of Atmospheric and Space Interaction Monitor (ASIM) data continued throughout the month. ASIM studies strong thunderstorms and helps us understand their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate. In the future, this may even help us understand more about how our atmosphere protects us from radiation, as well as make climate models more accurate.

Vegetation is struggling with land degradation in Mongolia

This month, Samantha also took pictures of the Dome of several certificates for ESA’s own climate detectives. This youth project aims to stimulate curiosity about the problems facing our climate in the next generation of scientists and to enable them to find solutions. She also took pictures of such a decision over China’s Kubuchi Desert on June 6. More than 50% of the desert is now covered with vegetation after restoration efforts.

A building for the future

The space station’s fluid laboratory is being upgraded

The team on board the station also conducted several experiments investigating the properties of materials in microgravity this month. First, the FSL Soft Matter Dynamics PASTA experiment, which looks at the behavior of emulsions in microgravity. Emulsions are used in a wide variety of industries on Earth, including food, cosmetics and even medicines. Understanding how they form and their dynamics will allow us to develop better, greener and healthier emulsion-based products and processes.

And it’s not just food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals that have benefited from space research this month. In May and June, astronauts also turned their attention to two studies focused on alloys. Experiments with electromagnetic levitator (EML) and transparent alloys examine the microstructure and formation of metal alloy samples. Collecting these measurements helps us understand exactly what gives alloys their strength, flexibility and durability.

Preparation for the future

The International Space Station team continues to build our ability to explore beyond our own planet. On June 1, this took the form of Samantha, controlling Justin, an Earth-based robot, from Earth orbit. This Surface Avatar experiment will help researchers understand how astronauts can interact with robots on planetary surfaces in future missions and design protocols to make the process as easy as possible.

Superficial avatar

On May 20, Samantha installed sample holders for the Matiss-3 experiment, which examined the antimicrobial properties of hydrophobic (or water-repellent) surfaces in space. As being in space lowers the immune response of astronauts, maintaining a sanitary environment is extremely important; this study will give us an idea of ​​which materials can best keep pathogens at bay. It is possible that in the future, the findings of this study will help us create spacecraft that are easier to keep clean, freeing up more time for astronauts to conduct vital research.

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