ISS News: June 2016 Archives

Ruexit For ISS?

Russia's Plan To Spin Off a New Space Station From the ISS, Popular Mechanics

"According to RKK Energia, the prime Russian contractor on the ISS, the new outpost would begin with the separation of the Nauka from the rest of the old station in mid-2020s. By that time, Nauka should have two even newer modules in tow. One would be the so-called Node Module, a tinker-toy-like component that could connect to six other modules, crew ships, cargo tankers, structural elements, you name it. The Node Module is already in RKK Energia's garage and ready to go within a few months after the Nauka. Next would be the new Science and Power Module (NEM) which, as it name implies, will finally give cosmonauts a state-of-the-art science lab and a pair of large solar arrays, making the Russian segment fully independent from the rest of the ISS in terms of power, communications, and other resources."

Keith's note: As readers of NASAWatch have noted by now, I have an interest in the utilization of the International Space Station. When the amazing capabilities of ISS are used to their fullest potential we all benefit. When those resources are under-utilized our tax dollars and the finite utility of the ISS are wasted. CASIS has been given responsibility for managing the U.S. assets aboard the ISS that have been collectively proclaimed as being the ISS National Laboratory. I've already written a lot about CASIS. I'll be writing much more in the weeks to come.

Let's start with a clear-cut example of how CASIS has stumbled: its preoccupation with golf and its relationship with Cobra Puma Golf, a large and very successful golfing gear manufacturer. If you look at the LinkedIn page of Patrick O'Neill, CASIS Marketing & Communications Manager, you will see that he was an account executive for VitroRobertson. Between 2008-2009 he was "Account Executive on the Cobra Golf Account. Managed the day to day operations of all Brand Marketing efforts and assisted in the production of all Advertising efforts for Cobra Golf." If you read CASIS President/Executive Director Greg Johnson's astronaut bio you'll see that he lists golf among his recreational interests. So, senior CASIS management likes golf. "Go with what you know", so they say.

On 31 March 2016 NASA International Space Station Director Sam Scimemi sent a letter to Greg Johnson on a number of topics. One of the issues Scimemi raised had to do with how CASIS hypes/promotes the research that it takes credit for having facilitated onboard the ISS. In that letter Scimemi notes: "We would advise caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to that research performed on the ISS has actually influenced product development in advance of awarding the certification. Failure to do so weakens the brand and may lend an air of being nonserious in our mutual quest to fully utilize the ISS as a national lab." Coincidentally this letter was sent on the same day that CASIS staff made a rather awkward presentation to the NASA Advisory Council.

The "Space Is In It" designation that CASIS calls an "endorsement" has apparently only been awarded once - to Cobra Puma Golf. As such it would be illustrative to examine how that whole process came about and what it says about the ability of CASIS to recognize the actual commercial research potential of the ISS.

NASA Administrator Bolden Addresses ESA Council

"The third phase is becoming "Earth Independent" by building upon what we are learning on the Space Station and what we will learn in the "Proving Ground" of the lunar vicinity to enable human missions to Mars. It is with this plan in mind that I'm here today to encourage you to continue your support for human exploration, starting with an ESA Council decision this coming December to extend ISS operations to at least 2024, a critical step to continue advancing humanity's presence farther into the solar system and, ultimately, completion of the Journey to Mars."

Hearing - Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing, and Treating Former Astronauts - Hearing Charter

"The hearing will evaluate the impacts of long duration human spaceflight on astronaut health; federal obligations and ethical considerations related to those impacts; as well as potential options for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating retired and management NASA astronauts for conditions resulting from their federal service."

- Subcommittee Discusses Healthcare for Former Astronauts, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
- Subcommittee Seeks Better Health Care for Former Astronauts, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Prepared Statement: Scott Kelly
- Prepared Statement: Richard Williams
- Prepared Statement: Chris Cassidy
- Prepared Statement: Michael Lopez-Alegria
- Prepared Statement: Jeffrey P. Kahn

Keith's note: It has been interesting to listen to astronauts and medical professionals talk about the various medical aspects of flying in space - especially what Scott Kelly has gone through as he re-adapts to life on Earth after his long flight. There is still so much we do not know. My first job at NASA in 1986 was at the Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters working on a large report documenting life science issues in space. A lot of the work had to do with crew health and safety. A lot of good research has been accomplished in the decades that have followed. We now know a lot more about how long duration spaceflight affects human health - but we do not know everything. Nor do we know how to deal with all of the potential risks - yet. As more research is done on the ISS, these issues will be better understood. When NASA sends humans on the #JourneyToMars they're going to need to understand just what the risks are for a trip that could last years before they sign off on the missions. Some risks simply have to be accepted. Yet others can be avoided - easily. Like being pregnant.

There is a movie coming out in August called "The Space Between Us". Based on the movie trailer and the film's website a pregnant astronaut files all the way to Mars and gives birth to a child - on Mars, dying in the process of childbirth. After lots of talk about how the boy could never adapt to Earth, they go ahead and fly him back to Earth anyway. Go figure. I just do not understand how any individual astronaut - or anyone at NASA - could ever allow a pregnant person to do this given how little we know about mammalian reproduction in a spaceflight environment. We do not fly pregnant astronauts now. This movie (based on what has been released) is going to be bioethics nightmare for any space life science expert who will be called upon to comment.

Had they changed the plot such that conception, development and birth all happened on Mars, they'd have been in much less risky territory since the 0.38G gravity on Mars may well be enough for normal development to proceed. Maybe. But having a pregnant woman - probably very close to term - do a multi-G entry and landing after 9 months of zero G gestation is just pushing the limits of ethics and credibility.

NASA Centennial Challenges Vascular Tissue Challenge

"The Vascular Tissue Challenge is open and teams that wish to compete may now register. Centennial Challenges is a program of prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies of interest and value to NASA and the nation. The Vascular Tissue Challenge is a prize competition with a $500,000 prize purse for teams that can successfully create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo functionality throughout a 30-day survival period. NASA is providing the prize purse. The Methuselah Foundation's New Organ Alliance is the Allied Organization managing the competition."

Keith's 12 June note: I sent NASA STMD AA Steve Jurczyk, NASA PAO, and HEOMD an email inquiry on this Challenge asking: "Can you tell me why NASA is providing $500,000 in award money for a competition to "create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo functionality throughout a 30-day survival period"?

According to this partner organization link referenced by this notice: "Specifically, innovations may enable the growth of de novo tissues and organs on orbit which may address the risks related to traumatic bodily injury, improve general crew health, and enhance crew performance on future, long-duration missions."

That said, is there an existing NASA mission/medical/safety requirement for ISS or NASA's human spaceflight activities to develop such a capability in space - or on Earth? If so can you provide me with the specific justification and the expected specific application of technology developed from the results of this challenge? When is this capability planned for implementation in space? Is NASA's participation in the topic of this specific challenge reflected in existing NASA plans for human health and countermeasures research? If there is no specific plan to implement this technology on space missions, can you explain why NASA is spending half a million dollars on research that is clearly much more relevant to NIH's or DoD's respective research portfolios? How (specifically) is this line of research "of interest and value to NASA"? This research has a clear overlap with the biotech research being conducted by the ISS National Laboratory. Is CASIS involved in this challenge?

As a biologist and former NASA life science division employee I am both intrigued and puzzled by this announcement."

Keith's 13 June update: By coincidence CASIS announced yet another cool biotech challenge today. Organs-on-chips have broad utility on Earth and in space - within and outside of space research. Cool, cutting-edge stuff, yes? But the rest of NASA (most notably NASA's Centennial Challenges) makes no reference to the CASIS biotech challenge announcement - and CASIS makes no announcement of the STMD Vascular Tissue Challenge. And NASA HEOMD does not mention either despite obvious linkages to human health and disease. So I forwarded this to the folks at STMD and HEOMD and asked if there is an agency-wide strategic plan that governs things like this. i.e. who does what - and why.

CASIS Announces $1 Million In Grant Awards For Organs-On-Chips Challenge

"The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced it has awarded $1 million in grant funding to two research entities stemming from its 3D Microphysiological Systems for Organs-On-Chips Grand Challenge. CASIS is the organization tasked with managing and promoting research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory."

Keith's 13 June update: Here's the response I got from Sarah Ramsey at NASA PAO:

Launch of new series manned spacecraft rescheduled due to risk of docking disruption, TASS

"The launch has been rescheduled for July 7," he said. "The crew is expected to come to Baikonur (the Russian space center located is Kazakhstan TASS) on June 24." "Experts have established the ship will be rolling as it docks the ISS and they are unable to stop this rolling motion so far," the source said.



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This page is an archive of entries in the ISS News category from June 2016.

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