Beyond Boundaries: Global Science on the Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is a busy laboratory for an assortment of science experiments and state of the art technology demonstrations, including those proposed by Canadian researchers. Chris Hadfield will play a pivotal role in the implementation of these projects during Expedition 34/35.

At any one time, the Station's rotating crew of six astronauts is responsible for the success of an ever changing lineup of 200 experiments, whose investigators hail from more than 30 countries.

Many of the investigations study the health of the astronauts as they adapt to weightlessness and produce results that improve health care on Earth.

"We are looking at fundamental physical research and comparing what we find with the work that is done in labs all over the world," noted Hadfield. "Understanding how the human body works is of benefit to everybody."

Others experiments are focused on the Earth and its environment or advancing technologies that will enable the future human exploration of deep space.

In 2004, the expanding outpost, then home to just two to three astronauts, was roomy enough for just 26 experiments. In 2010, the total stood at less than 100 under way at any one time. In 2012, the number has nearly doubled, representing a very exciting growth trend.

For their part, Hadfield and his crewmates represent an important part of the accelerating science agenda.

Throughout the mission, Hadfield be responsible for operations of the European Columbus and Japanese Kibo lab modules as well as the supervising of Canadian experiments.

The Station's multi-national science and technology agenda falls into a few broad categories: biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science; human and the physical sciences; technology demonstrations and education.

One of the newest, a NASA initiative, will start to examine the effects of time delays in the communications between the astronauts and their Mission Control teams. As the global space community prepares for missions to far off asteroids and to Mars, they must be prepared to wait many minutes for spacecraft communications to reach Earth and a response to return. That promises to change the way future space operations are conducted, placing more autonomy for decision-making with the flight crews.

New medical investigations are planned as well. The lineup will build on findings that some astronauts experience long-term vision problems when they spend months in weightlessness. Mission flight surgeons have stepped up the in-flight vision testing in response.

Now, researchers are prepared to look beyond the symptoms to develop countermeasures. American and Canadian researchers will also initiate new investigations into the response of the human cardiovascular system to the absence of gravity, including changes in blood pressure.

Those efforts represent another emerging theme for the science and technology activities under way aboard the Station, the collaboration among scientists from different countries and the willingness of the astronauts to participate in research projects sponsored by nations that are not their own.

"Overall, it's a very smart way to go. You don't want each organization repeating what others are already doing, when we can all share the results," said Hadfield.

Bob Thirsk poses with the Canadian space-grown willow trees of the APEX-Cambium experiment during Expedition 20/21. (Credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman takes a photo of the BCAT-5 hardware setup in the Japanese Kibo Module. BCAT-C1 is a Canadian science experiment that is a follow up to CSA's participation on the NASA sponsored BCAT-5, which took place in 2009-2010. It is expected that Hadfield will perform part of BCAT-C1 during his upcoming mission. (Credit: NASA)

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk performs the Canadian experiment BISE (Bodies in the Space Environment). This experiment tests how astronauts perceive up and down in a weightless environment. (Credit: NASA)