Science at 17,500 Miles Per HourNASA
An orbiting laboratory in space
The ISS is an unprecedented technological and political achievement in global human endeavors to conceive, plan, build, operate, and utilize a research platform in space. It is the latest step in humankind’s quest to explore and live in space.
It has developed into a unique research facility capable of unraveling the mysteries of life on Earth. We can use the ISS as a human-tended laboratory in low-Earth orbit to conduct multidiscipline research in biology and biotechnology, materials and physical science, technology advancement and development, and research on the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body. The results of the research completed on the ISS may be applied to various areas of science, enabling us to improve life on this planet and giving us the experience and increased understanding to journey to other worlds.
ISS Fly around views from STS-119 (2009-03-25)NASA
This high-flying international laboratory is packed with some of the most technologically sophisticated facilities that can support a wide range of scientific inquiry in biology, human physiology, physical and materials sciences, and Earth and space science. There is no place on Earth where you can find such a laboratory—approximately the size of an American football field (including the end zones) and having the interior volume of 1.5 Boeing 747 jetliners—with facilities to conduct the breadth of research that can be done aboard the ISS.
Here, we explore 6 of the most cutting-edge research areas ongoing on the ISS today.
A Recipe for Cooling Atoms to Almost Absolute ZeroNASA
1. Exploring the 5th-state of matter
25 years ago, scientists first produced a fifth state of matter with properties totally unlike solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas.
Cold Atom Lab Unloading ISSNASA
In 2018, NASA's Cold Atom Lab became the first facility to produce that fifth state of matter, called a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), in Earth orbit. This can provide insight into fundamental laws of quantum mechanics.
ScienceCasts: Sequencing DNA in SpaceNASA
2. Capability to identify unknown microbes in space
Being able to identify microbes in real time in space without having to send them back to Earth for identification first, is revolutionary for the world of microbiology and space exploration.
NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA in space for the first time ever for the Biomolecule Sequencer investigation, using the MinION sequencing device.NASA
The Genes in Space-3 team turned that possibility to reality in 2017, when it completed the first-ever sample-to-sequence process entirely aboard the space station.
Protein crystals formed in microgravity in the space station’s Kibo ModuleNASA
3. Drug development using protein crystals
Protein crystal growth experiments conducted aboard the space station have provided insights into treatments numerous diseases, from cancer to gum disease.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst retrieves samples for the JAXA Protein Crystal Growth (PCG) investigation from the Freezer-Refrigerator Of Stirling Cycle 2 (FROST2)NASA
One of the most promising results has come from the study of a protein associated with Duchenne Muscle Dystrophy (DMD), an incurable genetic disorder. A treatment for DMD based on station research is in clinical trials.
NASA ScienceCasts: Finding the InvisibleNASA
4. Collection of more than 100 billion cosmic particles
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – 02 has been looking for evidence of dark matter from outside of the space station since 2011, collecting data on more than 100 billion cosmic particles.
ISS Cosmic ParticlesNASA
AMS-02 has provided researchers around the globe with data that can help determine what the universe is made of and how it began.
NASA ScienceCasts: Keeping an Eye on EarthNASA
5. Monitoring our planet from a unique perspective
The space station is a robust platform for Earth observation, providing new opportunities for researchers studying Earth’s water, air, land masses, vegetation, and more.
The aurora australis, or "southern lights," above the Indian Ocean (2019-06-08)NASA
Earth observations taken from space, including those taken over the past two decades from the space station, have supplied data that revolutionized weather tracking and forecasting, and provided insights into land use, geophysical, and atmospheric changes.
Astronaut Peggy Whitson conducts ultrasound measurements on the International Space Station for the Fluid Shifts experimentNASA
6. Human Life Science Research
Human Life Science research has assessed the complexity, severity, and duration of physiological changes that have noticeable effects on a crew member's health in space in micro-gravity and when returning to a gravity environment.
Physiological changes in micro-gravity include sensorimotor disturbances, cardiovascular deconditioning and loss of muscle mass and strength. These changes can lead to performance impairments once the crew member returns to a gravity field. Field Test Investigations conducted on the ISS crew members after their return to Earth have led to understanding crew performance that could affect critical mission requirements during future exploration missions.
NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan uses the optical coherence tomography (OCT) camera to take an image of his retina while in the Chibis device, which was tested as a countermeasure to headward fluid shifts in space that play a role in vision changes.NASA
The ‘One-Year Mission’ (2015-2016), was the first of a series of extended duration research missions to develop a better understanding of how each human system adapts to the space flight environment. The first one year mission focused on seven categories of medical, psychological and biomedical challenges. Astronaut Scott Kelly flew on ISS for nearly a year while his twin brother, Mark, served as Scott’s ground control.
During the long duration ISS space missions, astronauts’ experienced reduced visual acuity along with ocular and brain changes that had not been apparent during earlier missions. This condition was named Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) Most ISS astronauts were found to have been affected to varying degrees. Continuing research has focused on better understanding what causes SANS and how to prevent it from happening during future human spaceflight missions.
Learn more about the International Space Station and the research to come at: