SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: NASA

104

This paper demonstrates the significant utility of deploying non-traditional biological techniques to harness available volatiles and waste resources on manned missions to explore the Moon and Mars. Compared with anticipated non-biological approaches, it is determined that for 916 day Martian missions: 205 days of high-quality methane and oxygen Mars bioproduction with Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum can reduce the mass of a Martian fuel-manufacture plant by 56%; 496 days of biomass generation with Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima on Mars can decrease the shipped wet-food mixed-menu mass for a Mars stay and a one-way voyage by 38%; 202 days of Mars polyhydroxybutyrate synthesis with Cupriavidus necator can lower the shipped mass to three-dimensional print a 120 m(3) six-person habitat by 85% and a few days of acetaminophen production with engineered Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 can completely replenish expired or irradiated stocks of the pharmaceutical, thereby providing independence from unmanned resupply spacecraft that take up to 210 days to arrive. Analogous outcomes are included for lunar missions. Because of the benign assumptions involved, the results provide a glimpse of the intriguing potential of ‘space synthetic biology’, and help focus related efforts for immediate, near-term impact.

Concepts: Solar System, Mars, Moon, Spacecraft, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, NASA, Robotic spacecraft

47

The history of Mars' atmosphere is important for understanding the geological evolution and potential habitability of the planet. We determine the amount of gas lost to space through time using measurements of the upper-atmospheric structure made by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. We derive the structure of (38)Ar/(36)Ar between the homopause and exobase altitudes. Fractionation of argon occurs as a result of loss of gas to space by pickup-ion sputtering, which preferentially removes the lighter atom. The measurements require that 66% of the atmospheric argon has been lost to space. Thus, a large fraction of Mars' atmospheric gas has been lost to space, contributing to the transition in climate from an early, warm, wet environment to today’s cold, dry atmosphere.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Atmosphere, Venus, NASA

40

The Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) on the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover began making detailed measurements of the cosmic ray and energetic particle radiation environment on the surface of Mars on 7 August 2012. We report and discuss measurements of the absorbed dose and dose equivalent from galactic cosmic rays and solar energetic particles on the Martian surface for ~300 days of observations during the current solar maximum. These measurements provide insight into the radiation hazards associated with a human mission to the surface of Mars, and provide an anchor point to model the subsurface radiation environment, with implications for microbial survival times of any possible extant or past life, as well as for the preservation of potential organic biosignatures of the ancient Martian environment.

Concepts: Ionizing radiation, Mars, NASA

37

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, containing the Curiosity rover, was launched to Mars on 26 November 2011, and for most of the 253-day, 560-million-kilometer cruise to Mars, the Radiation Assessment Detector made detailed measurements of the energetic particle radiation environment inside the spacecraft. These data provide insights into the radiation hazards that would be associated with a human mission to Mars. We report measurements of the radiation dose, dose equivalent, and linear energy transfer spectra. The dose equivalent for even the shortest round-trip with current propulsion systems and comparable shielding is found to be 0.66 ± 0.12 sievert.

Concepts: Mars, Spacecraft, NASA, Mars Science Laboratory

35

By analogy with Earth, methane in the martian atmosphere is a potential signature of ongoing or past biological activity. During the last decade, Earth-based telescopic observations reported “plumes” of methane of tens of parts-per-billion by volume (ppbv), and those from Mars orbit showed localized patches, prompting speculation of sources from subsurface bacteria or non-biological sources. From in situ measurements made by the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) on Curiosity using a distinctive spectral pattern unique to methane, we here report no detection of atmospheric methane with a measured value of 0.18 ±0.67 ppbv corresponding to an upper limit of only 1.3 ppbv (95% confidence level) that reduces the probability of current methanogenic microbial activity on Mars, and limits the recent contribution from extraplanetary and geologic sources.

Concepts: Measurement, Planet, Mars, Atmosphere, Methane, NASA, Pluto, Life on Mars

33

On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space. Although National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had discounted the need for him to urinate, Shepard did, in his spacesuit, short circuiting his electronic biosensors. With the development of the pressure suit needed for high-altitude and space flight during the 1950s, technicians had developed the means for urine collection. However, cultural mores, combined with a lack of interagency communication, and the technical difficulties of spaceflight made human waste collection a difficult task. Despite the difficulties, technicians at NASA created a successful urine collection device that John Glenn wore on the first Mercury orbital flight on February 20, 1962. With minor modifications, male astronauts used this system to collect urine until the Space Shuttle program. John Glenn’s urine collection device is at the National Air and Space Museum and has been on view to the public since 1976.

Concepts: Spacecraft, International Space Station, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, NASA, Outer space, Space Shuttle, John Glenn

32

To understand how humans adapt to the space environment, many experiments can be conducted on astronauts as they work aboard the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station (ISS). We also need animal experiments that can apply to human models and help prevent or solve the health issues we face in space travel. The Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) is a suitable model fish for studying space adaptation as evidenced by adults of the species having mated successfully in space during 15 days of flight during the second International Microgravity Laboratory mission in 1994. The eggs laid by the fish developed normally and hatched as juveniles in space. In 2012, another space experiment (“Medaka Osteoclast”) was conducted. Six-week-old male and female Japanese medaka (Cab strain osteoblast transgenic fish) were maintained in the Aquatic Habitat system for two months in the ISS. Fish of the same strain and age were used as the ground controls. Six fish were fixed with paraformaldehyde or kept in RNA stabilization reagent (n = 4) and dissected for tissue sampling after being returned to the ground, so that several principal investigators working on the project could share samples. Histology indicated no significant changes except in the ovary. However, the RNA-seq analysis of 5345 genes from six tissues revealed highly tissue-specific space responsiveness after a two-month stay in the ISS. Similar responsiveness was observed among the brain and eye, ovary and testis, and the liver and intestine. Among these six tissues, the intestine showed the highest space response with 10 genes categorized as oxidation-reduction processes (gene ontogeny term GO:0055114), and the expression levels of choriogenin precursor genes were suppressed in the ovary. Eleven genes including klf9, klf13, odc1, hsp70 and hif3a were upregulated in more than four of the tissues examined, thus suggesting common immunoregulatory and stress responses during space adaptation.

Concepts: Gene expression, Biology, RNA, International Space Station, Space exploration, Mir, NASA, Space Shuttle

31

The United States first sent humans into space during six flights of Project Mercury from May 1961 to May 1963. These flights were brief, with durations ranging from about 15 min to just over 34 h. A primary purpose of the project was to determine if humans could perform meaningful tasks while in space. This was supported by a series of biomedical measurements on each astronaut before, during (when feasible), and after flight to document the effects of exposure to the spaceflight environment. While almost all of the data presented here have been published in technical reports, this is the first integrated summary of the main results. One unexpected finding emerges: the major physiological changes associated with these short-term spaceflights are correlated more strongly with time spent by the astronaut in a spacesuit than with time spent in space per se. Thus, exposure to the direct stressors of short-duration (up to 34 h) spaceflight was not the dominant factor influencing human health and performance. This is relevant to current spaceflight programs and especially to upcoming commercial flights in which time spent in space (as on a suborbital flight) will be minor compared to the time spent in associated preparation, ascent, and return.

Concepts: Time, Spacecraft, Human spaceflight, Spaceflight, NASA, Outer space, Project Mercury, Mercury-Redstone 4

28

The Mars rover Spirit encountered outcrops and regolith composed of opaline silica (amorphous SiO2·nH2O) in an ancient volcanic hydrothermal setting in Gusev crater. An origin via either fumarole-related acid-sulfate leaching or precipitation from hot spring fluids was suggested previously. However, the potential significance of the characteristic nodular and mm-scale digitate opaline silica structures was not recognized. Here we report remarkably similar features within active hot spring/geyser discharge channels at El Tatio in northern Chile, where halite-encrusted silica yields infrared spectra that are the best match yet to spectra from Spirit. Furthermore, we show that the nodular and digitate silica structures at El Tatio that most closely resemble those on Mars include complex sedimentary structures produced by a combination of biotic and abiotic processes. Although fully abiotic processes are not ruled out for the Martian silica structures, they satisfy an a priori definition of potential biosignatures.

Concepts: Water, Mars, NASA, Opportunity rover, Mars Exploration Rover, Rover, Exploration of Mars, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

25

For potential future human missions to the Moon or Mars and sustained presence in the International Space Station, a safe enclosed habitat environment for astronauts is required. Potential microbial contamination of closed habitats presents a risk for crewmembers due to reduced human immune response during long-term confinement. To make future habitat designs safer for crewmembers, lessons learned from characterizing analogous habitats is very critical. One of the key issues is that how human presence influences the accumulation of microorganisms in the closed habitat.

Concepts: NASA