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Concept: Spacecraft


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


The Mars500 project was conceived as the first full duration simulation of a crewed return flight to Mars. For 520 days, six crew members lived confined in a specifically designed spacecraft mock-up. The herein described “MIcrobial ecology of Confined Habitats and humAn health” (MICHA) experiment was implemented to acquire comprehensive microbiota data from this unique, confined manned habitat, to retrieve important information on the occurring microbiota dynamics, the microbial load and diversity in the air and on various surfaces. In total, 360 samples from 20 (9 air, 11 surface) locations were taken at 18 time-points and processed by extensive cultivation, PhyloChip and next generation sequencing (NGS) of 16S rRNA gene amplicons.

Concepts: Archaea, Ribosomal RNA, 16S ribosomal RNA, Spacecraft, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, Spaceflight, Space Shuttle


Thermal models for the north polar region of Mercury, calculated from topographic measurements made by the MESSENGER spacecraft, show that the spatial distribution of regions of high radar backscatter is well matched by the predicted distribution of thermally stable water ice. MESSENGER measurements of near-infrared surface reflectance indicate bright surfaces in the coldest areas where water ice is predicted to be stable at the surface, and dark surfaces within and surrounding warmer areas where water ice is predicted to be stable only in the near subsurface. We propose that the dark surface layer is a sublimation lag deposit that may be rich in impact-derived organic material.

Concepts: Water, Snow, Ice, Mercury, MESSENGER, Polar region, Spacecraft, Triple point


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


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


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


The ChemCam instrument, which provides insight into martian soil chemistry at the submillimeter scale, identified two principal soil types along the Curiosity rover traverse: a fine-grained mafic type and a locally derived, coarse-grained felsic type. The mafic soil component is representative of widespread martian soils and is similar in composition to the martian dust. It possesses a ubiquitous hydrogen signature in ChemCam spectra, corresponding to the hydration of the amorphous phases found in the soil by the CheMin instrument. This hydration likely accounts for an important fraction of the global hydration of the surface seen by previous orbital measurements. ChemCam analyses did not reveal any significant exchange of water vapor between the regolith and the atmosphere. These observations provide constraints on the nature of the amorphous phases and their hydration.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Soil, Mars, Spacecraft, Regolith, Mars Exploration Rover, Rover


Wind blowing over sand on Earth produces decimeter-wavelength ripples and hundred-meter- to kilometer-wavelength dunes: bedforms of two distinct size modes. Observations from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal that Mars hosts a third stable wind-driven bedform, with meter-scale wavelengths. These bedforms are spatially uniform in size and typically have asymmetric profiles with angle-of-repose lee slopes and sinuous crest lines, making them unlike terrestrial wind ripples. Rather, these structures resemble fluid-drag ripples, which on Earth include water-worked current ripples, but on Mars instead form by wind because of the higher kinematic viscosity of the low-density atmosphere. A reevaluation of the wind-deposited strata in the Burns formation (about 3.7 billion years old or younger) identifies potential wind-drag ripple stratification formed under a thin atmosphere.

Concepts: Mars, Spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Exploration Rover, Mars Science Laboratory, Rover, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Atmosphere of Mars


The success of interplanetary human spaceflight will depend on many factors, including the behavioral activity levels, sleep, and circadian timing of crews exposed to prolonged microgravity and confinement. To address the effects of the latter, we used a high-fidelity ground simulation of a Mars mission to objectively track sleep-wake dynamics in a multinational crew of six during 520 d of confined isolation. Measurements included continuous recordings of wrist actigraphy and light exposure (4.396 million min) and weekly computer-based neurobehavioral assessments (n = 888) to identify changes in the crew’s activity levels, sleep quantity and quality, sleep-wake periodicity, vigilance performance, and workload throughout the record-long 17 mo of mission confinement. Actigraphy revealed that crew sedentariness increased across the mission as evident in decreased waking movement (i.e., hypokinesis) and increased sleep and rest times. Light exposure decreased during the mission. The majority of crewmembers also experienced one or more disturbances of sleep quality, vigilance deficits, or altered sleep-wake periodicity and timing, suggesting inadequate circadian entrainment. The results point to the need to identify markers of differential vulnerability to hypokinesis and sleep-wake changes during the prolonged isolation of exploration spaceflight and the need to ensure maintenance of circadian entrainment, sleep quantity and quality, and optimal activity levels during exploration missions. Therefore, successful adaptation to such missions will require crew to transit in spacecraft and live in surface habitats that instantiate aspects of Earth’s geophysical signals (appropriately timed light exposure, food intake, exercise) required for temporal organization and maintenance of human behavior.

Concepts: Time, Psychology, Behavior, Human behavior, Circadian rhythm, Spacecraft, Space exploration, Human spaceflight


Understanding the effects of spaceflight on microbial communities is crucial for the success of long-term, manned space missions. Surface-associated bacterial communities, known as biofilms, were abundant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge on the International Space Station. The health and safety hazards linked to the development of biofilms are of particular concern due to the suppression of immune function observed during spaceflight. While planktonic cultures of microbes have indicated that spaceflight can lead to increases in growth and virulence, the effects of spaceflight on biofilm development and physiology remain unclear. To address this issue, Pseudomonas aeruginosa was cultured during two Space Shuttle Atlantis missions: STS-132 and STS-135, and the biofilms formed during spaceflight were characterized. Spaceflight was observed to increase the number of viable cells, biofilm biomass, and thickness relative to normal gravity controls. Moreover, the biofilms formed during spaceflight exhibited a column-and-canopy structure that has not been observed on Earth. The increase in the amount of biofilms and the formation of the novel architecture during spaceflight were observed to be independent of carbon source and phosphate concentrations in the media. However, flagella-driven motility was shown to be essential for the formation of this biofilm architecture during spaceflight. These findings represent the first evidence that spaceflight affects community-level behaviors of bacteria and highlight the importance of understanding how both harmful and beneficial human-microbe interactions may be altered during spaceflight.

Concepts: Bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Spacecraft, International Space Station, Space exploration, Mir, Human spaceflight, Space Shuttle