Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Against-the-clock rehearsal for Station immunology test
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Apr 30, 2013

Astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford at ESA's Life and Physical Sciences and Life Support Laboratory at ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on 11 April 2013. Dr Hughes-Fulford and her team were there to rehearse preparing an immunology payload for flight to the International Space Station by Dragon capsule this November. Copyright ESA.

Simply getting anything into space is tough, but doing so against a strict deadline can be really stressful. Researchers in an ESA laboratory nervously checked the clock as they extracted immune cells - beginning a full dress rehearsal to prepare a time-critical experiment for launch.

An international team led by a NASA astronaut gathered at ESA's Life and Physical Sciences and Life Support Laboratory at ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, earlier this month. There they rehearsed preparing their payload for flight to the International Space Station by Dragon capsule this November.

The experiment involves activating T-cells - central to the human immune response - in microgravity to test how their behaviour changes. Previous research has shown that suppressed immune systems of astronauts in orbit come about largely due to weightlessness.

"We're trying to pinpoint the very small molecules that regulate the immune system - with microgravity experimentation serving to reveal new regulatory pathways," explains astronaut and molecular biologist Millie Hughes-Fulford, veteran of 1991's STS-40, the first Shuttle mission devoted to medical science.

"With autoimmune diseases like arthritis you're looking for ways of turning the immune response down while with astronauts or older people down on Earth you really want to turn it up because it isn't working as well.

"This is why we're doing this experiment on healthy cells in spaceflight - to find the pathways that are affected very early and then we're going to study the immune system of older people and see if the same mechanisms are at work."

The challenge is that T-cells must be extracted fresh from human blood - and survive only 120 hours once outside it.

Within that time they have to be isolated, prepared for their spaceflight inside 'experiment units' which must then be checked for integrity, passed to SpaceX technicians for loading aboard Dragon, undergo the two-day launch and rendezvous with the Space Station, then be unloaded and placed inside ESA's Kubik incubator within Europe's Columbus module where the actual experiment will take place.

Once safely inside the 37 C incubator - with some placed inside an internal centrifuge to serve as normal-gravity controls - the T-cells will be activated using synthetic antigens to provoke an immune response. The cells will then have their expressed RNA preserved for subsequent analysis.

The payload is due to be downloaded back to Earth by the returning Dragon at the end of this year.

Principal investigator Dr Hughes-Fulford and her research team from the University of California San Francisco joined with the experiment's hardware designers at Kayser Italia and ESA's Swiss ISS User Support Operations Centre for the rehearsal, covering all experimental milestones other than launch.

"The process can be stressful but this dress rehearsal has made us prepare for it, making us more ready for the actual flight," adds Dr Hughes-Fulford.

While officially a US experiment, ESA is providing support through a barter agreement. The experiment will be prepared for actual flight adjacent to the launch site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

For Dr Hughes-Fulford this experiment is the latest of many orbital experiments: "During my Shuttle flight we oversaw 26 separate experiments covering all areas of medical science. In my subsequent research career I've focused on the immune system as one of the most important areas to be affected during spaceflight.

"We also have a lot of people on the ground with auto-immune diseases, or older people dying of infection because their immune system is compromised, so it's a very important field of study - not just for astronauts going to Mars but actually for everybody."

"ESTEC's Life and Physical Sciences and Life Support Laboratory regularly supports preparation for similar biological experiments," adds ESA's Jutta Krause.

"Our Lab is equipped for a wide variety of activities including technology developments and hardware testing up to full-scale dress rehearsals like this."


Related Links
Life and Physical Sciences, Exploration and Life Support Laboratory Facilities
Kubik at ESA
Space Medicine Technology and Systems

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

NASA Prepares For International Space Biology Research Mission
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Apr 30, 2013
NASA and the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems, Moscow, are collaborating on a space biology mission aboard an unmanned Russian biosatellite to understand better the mechanisms of how life adapts to microgravity and then readapts to gravity on Earth. NASA will participate in the post-flight analysis of rodents flown for 30 days on the biosatellite, Bion-M1, which launched April 19 from Ba ... read more

Characterizing The Lunar Radiation Environment

Russia rekindles Moon exploration program, intends setting up first human outposts there

Pre-existing mineralogy may survive lunar impacts

Lunar cycle determines hunting behaviour of nocturnal gulls

Dutch reality show seeks one-way astronauts for Mars

Accurate pointing by Curiosity

NASA Mars Orbiter Images May Show 1971 Soviet Lander

Opportunity is in position for solar conjunction at 'Cape York' on the rim of Endeavour Crater

NASA's Chief Defends Commercial Spaceflight Agreements

NASA Invites the Public to Fly Along with Voyager

Google's Brin keeps spotlight on future technologies

Mysterious water on Jupiter came from comet smash

Yuanwang III, VI depart for space-tracking missions

Shenzhou's Shadow Crew

Shenzhou 10 sent to launch site

China's Next Women Astronauts

Cargo spaceship docks with ISS despite antenna mishap

ISS Communications Test Bed Checks Out; Experiments Begin

Spacewalkers Deploy Plasma Experiment, Install Navigational Aid

The New and Improved ISS Facilities Brochure

O3b Networks' first four satellites arrive for the next Arianespace Soyuz launch

On the record with... Stephane Israel, Arianespace Chairman and CEO

Vega's three-satellite payload is integrated and ready for launch

NASA Seeks Innovative Suborbital Flight Technology Proposals

Astronomer studies far-off worlds through 'characterization by proxy'

Mysterious Hot Spots Observed In A Cool Red Supergiant

Orbital Selected By NASA for TESS Astrophysics Satellite

Star-and Planet-Forming Regions May Hold Key to Life's Chirality

NASA, Partners Solicit Creative Materials Manufacturing Solutions

Vaterite: Crystal within a crystal helps resolve an old puzzle

Space debris problem now urgent - scientists

Nothing Bugs These NASA Aeronautical Researchers

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement