On Monday, NASA and SpaceX will send four new crew members to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Crew-6 mission.
During their six-month stay on the ISS, NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, will work on tasks such as upgrading ISS systems and performing maintenance. But they will also carry out scientific research in the microgravity environment of the station, working on a wide range of experiments.
One of the most dramatic experiments the team will be working on is the ISS External Microorganisms project, which aims to collect samples of bacteria and fungi from surfaces outside the station. The biggest concern is not that certain space bacteria will mutate and harm humans, but that astronauts could inadvertently contaminate other environments such as Mars if we ever travel there.
The experiment checks for the presence of microbes around areas such as the station’s life support system vents to see if microbes can survive on these surfaces and how far they can spread, while returning the samples to Earth for DNA sequencing . This should help us understand the potential dangers of human contamination in environments, especially when looking for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Another experiment will explore the uses of tissue chips, which contain human cells and mimic human organs such as the heart. These can be used to test new treatments such as drugs and see how organs respond to the space environment without having to perform experiments on real people. Two heart-related experiments will test drugs to protect the heart during spaceflight, which could also be useful in developing new treatments for heart disease on Earth. Another health-related experiment called the Immune Assay will test the effects of spaceflight on cellular immune functions, using a new type of test tube developed for microgravity.
And for another dramatic test, the team will continue to work with the station’s Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinguishment (SoFIE) hardware used to test how things burn in space, depending on factors such as airflow and pressure. This is useful for developing safer space technologies and could help develop firefighting equipment on Earth as well.