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Concept: Micro-g environment


The attenuation of sedimentation and convection in microgravity can sometimes decrease irregularities formed during macromolecular crystal growth. Current terrestrial protein crystal growth (PCG) capabilities are very different than those used during the Shuttle era and that are currently on the International Space Station (ISS). The focus of this experiment was to demonstrate the use of a commercial off-the-shelf, high throughput, PCG method in microgravity. Using Protein BioSolutions' microfluidic Plug Maker™/CrystalCard™ system, we tested the ability to grow crystals of the regulator of glucose metabolism and adipogenesis: peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (apo-hPPAR-γ LBD), as well as several PCG standards. Overall, we sent 25 CrystalCards™ to the ISS, containing ~10,000 individual microgravity PCG experiments in a 3U NanoRacks NanoLab (1U = 10(3) cm.). After 70 days on the ISS, our samples were returned with 16 of 25 (64%) microgravity cards having crystals, compared to 12 of 25 (48%) of the ground controls. Encouragingly, there were more apo-hPPAR-γ LBD crystals in the microgravity PCG cards than the 1g controls. These positive results hope to introduce the use of the PCG standard of low sample volume and large experimental density to the microgravity environment and provide new opportunities for macromolecular samples that may crystallize poorly in standard laboratories.

Concepts: Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, Crystal, Chemistry, Experiment, Biochemistry, Crystallization, International Space Station, Micro-g environment


Huntington’s disease is one of nine neurodegenerative diseases caused by a polyglutamine (polyQ)-repeat expansion. An anti-polyQ antigen-binding fragment, MW1 Fab, was crystallized both on Earth and on the International Space Station, a microgravity environment where convection is limited. Once the crystals returned to Earth, the number, size and morphology of all crystals were recorded, and X-ray data were collected from representative crystals. The results generally agreed with previous microgravity crystallization studies. On average, microgravity-grown crystals were 20% larger than control crystals grown on Earth, and microgravity-grown crystals had a slightly improved mosaicity (decreased by 0.03°) and diffraction resolution (decreased by 0.2 Å) compared with control crystals grown on Earth. However, the highest resolution and lowest mosaicity crystals were formed on Earth, and the highest-quality crystal overall was formed on Earth after return from microgravity.

Concepts: Crystal, Diffraction, Crystallography, Neurodegenerative disorders, Crystallization, International Space Station, Polyglutamine tract, Micro-g environment


Exposure to the microgravity environment results in various adaptive and maladaptive physiological changes in the human body, with notable ophthalmic abnormalities developing during 6-month missions on the International Space Station (ISS). These findings have led to the hypothesis that the loss of gravity induces a cephalad fluid shift, decreased cerebral venous outflow and increased intracranial pressure (ICP) which may be further exacerbated by increased ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the ISS. Here we describe the “SPACECOT study” (Studying the Physiological and Anatomical Cerebral Effects of CO2 during Head-Down Tilt), a randomized, double-blinded cross-over design study with two conditions: 29 h of 12° head-down tilt (HDT) with ambient air and 29 h of 12° HDT with 0.5% CO2 The internationally collaborative SPACECOT study utilized an innovative approach to study the effects of headward fluid shifting induced by 12° HDT and increased ambient CO2 as well as their interaction with a focus on cerebral and ocular anatomy and physiology. Here we provide an in-depth overview of this new approach including the subjects, study design and implementation as well as the standardization plan for nutritional intake, environmental parameters and bed rest procedures.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Biology, Physiology, Intracranial pressure, Anatomy, Human anatomy, International Space Station, Micro-g environment



The Constrained Vapor Bubble (CVB) experiment concerns a transparent, simple, “wickless” heat pipe operated in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS). In a microgravity environment, the relative effect of Marangoni flow is amplified because of highly reduced buoyancy driven flows as demonstrated herein. In this paper, experimental results obtained using a transparent 30 mm long CVB module, 3 x 3 mm in square cross-section, with power inputs of up to 3.125 W are presented and discussed. Due to the extremely low Bond number and the dielectric materials of construction, the CVB system was ideally suited to determining if dry-out as a result of Marangoni forces might contribute to limiting heat pipe performance and exactly how that limitation occurs. Using a combination of visual observations and thermal measurements, we find a more complicated phenomenon in which opposing Marangoni and capillary forces lead to flooding of the device. A simple one-dimensional, thermal-fluid flow model describes the essence of the relative importance of the two stresses. Moreover, even though the heater end of the device is flooded and the liquid is highly superheated, boiling does not occur due to high evaporation rates.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Water, Fluid mechanics, Liquid, Surface tension, Heat transfer, International Space Station, Micro-g environment


Within the framework of an international benchmark test we have performed measurements of the Soret and thermodiffusion coefficients of the organic ternary mixture (0.8/0.1/0.1 mass fraction) of 1,2,3,4-tetrahydronaphthaline (THN), isobutylbenzene (IBB) and n -dodecane (n C12) at 298.15K by means of a two-color optical beam deflection technique (OBD). The data evaluation procedure is based on a least squares fitting routine for an approximate analytical solution for the Soret cell problem. The condition number of the contrast factor matrix and standard error propagation are used for an error estimation for the measured Soret and thermodiffusion coefficients. The Soret coefficients obtained are S (‘) T(THN) = (1.20±0.09)×10(-3) K^-1, S (’) T(IBB) = (- 0.34±0.14)×10(-3) K^-1, and S (‘) T(nC12) = (- 0.86±0.06)×10(-3) K^-1 and the corresponding thermodiffusion coefficients are D (’) T(THN) = (0.72±0.26)×10(-12) m^2(s K)^-1, D (‘) T(IBB) = (- 0.22±0.42)×10(-12) m^2(s K)^-1, and D (’) T(nC12) = (- 0.50±0.16)×10(-12) m^2(s K)^-1. These results will be used as ground-based reference data for the DCMIX project, where thermodiffusion experiments of ternary mixtures are measured in a microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Concepts: Regression analysis, Measurement, Test method, Normal distribution, Uncertainty, Numerical analysis, International Space Station, Micro-g environment


We present a transient experimental analysis of the DCMIX1 project conducted onboard the International Space Station for a ternary tetrahydronaphtalene, isobutylbenzene, n-dodecane mixture. Raw images taken in microgravity environment using the SODI (Selectable Optical Diagnostic) apparatus which is equipped with two wavelength diagnostic were processed and the results were analyzed in this work. We measured the concentration profile of the mixture containing 80% THN, 10% IBB and 10% nC12 during the entire experiment using an advanced image processing technique and accordingly we determined the Soret coefficients using an advanced curve-fitting and post-processing technique. It must be noted that the experiment has been repeated five times to ensure the repeatability of the experiment.

Concepts: Time, Chemistry, Mixture, Experiment, Test method, International Space Station, Micro-g environment


Postflight postural ataxia reflects both the control strategies adopted for movement in microgravity and the direct effects of deconditioning. Computerized dynamic posturography (CDP) has been used during the first decade of the International Space Station (ISS) expeditions to quantify the initial postflight decrements and recovery of postural stability.

Concepts: International Space Station, Space exploration, Mir, Space Station Freedom, Space station, Mir-2, Space Shuttle, Micro-g environment


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) started a high-quality protein crystal growth project, now called JAXA PCG, on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2002. Using the counter-diffusion technique, 14 sessions of experiments have been performed as of 2012 with 580 proteins crystallized in total. Over the course of these experiments, a user-friendly interface framework for high accessibility has been constructed and crystallization techniques improved; devices to maximize the use of the microgravity environment have been designed, resulting in some high-resolution crystal growth. If crystallization conditions were carefully fixed in ground-based experiments, high-quality protein crystals grew in microgravity in many experiments on the ISS, especially when a highly homogeneous protein sample and a viscous crystallization solution were employed. In this article, the current status of JAXA PCG is discussed, and a rational approach to high-quality protein crystal growth in microgravity based on numerical analyses is explained.

Concepts: Crystal, Crystallography, Chemistry, Crystallization, International Space Station, Space exploration, Crystal growth, Micro-g environment