Zoom out, then in – the ISS’s latest experiments

ISSIn the 13 years of continuous human occupation, the International Space Station has housed many experiments that have led to us better understand osteoporosis, water quality and bone loss in space.

At the AAAS meeting in Chicago on Friday, panelists spoke about some projects they are working on –  intergalactically.

“We went to space because it was a challenge,” said physicist Paolo Zuccon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Zuccon and his team are currently working on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a machine used to help determine the presence of dark matter. Dark matter and dark energy are believed to represent 95 percent of the universe but scientists can’t observe or detect this dark force directly so far. But with the help of the machine, scientists hope they will be able to confirm dark matter’s existence as well as its origin.

Having a space station doesn’t necessarily mean it’s only used to study outer space, though.

If we zoom in from the big universe and focus on Earth, honing in on ourselves, we can see a different kind of universe to be studied. Dr. Graham Scott, a researcher at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and his team have started a series of tests to be done on the human physiology.

Tests will be done on the Kelly brothers – identical twins, both in the space industry. Mark Kelly will stay on the ground, while his brother Scott will fly into space. Researchers are looking to pinpoint the effects of a year of space travel at the space station.

Over the course of 2015 and 2016, pre and post-launch tests will be done on the DNA of both twins to find out if space gravity and other factors change a body’s functionality.

This will be the first test of its kind, Scott said. It’s all about personalized medicine and catering to the individual body’s needs.

“We spend millions and billions training them to be productive and healthy in space. As we gear up for these longer missions we have to really use the full power of 21st century medicine,” he said.

The space station is currently being underutilized by 23 percent. It’s hard to maximize all the possibilities considering the high volume of equipment mass and astronaut time.

But this leaves a huge opportunity to expand on the breadth of science left to be discovered.

The space station is as long and wide as a football field and creating plenty of head room for scientists to explore more space science.

“We jumped a step on a ladder,” said Col. Greg Johnson. “We can do new experiments that without caring about developing power systems, flight systems. So scientists can focus on their job – thinking with permanence.”