A new crew has recently arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), ready to embark on a six-month mission of scientific research and experimentation. Known as Crew-7, the team will be focusing on a new suite of experiments aimed at understanding the long-term effects of spaceflight on the human body. This information will be crucial for future crewed missions to the Moon and beyond.
The Crew-7 consists of NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.
Originally scheduled to launch on Friday, August 25th, the launch was delayed by approximately 24 hours for a safety review of the valves in the Dragon’s environmental control and life support system. After confirming that all valves were operating normally, NASA assured the public that the extra checks were merely a precautionary measure.
With the safety review completed, the crew successfully launched on Saturday, August 26th, and arrived at the ISS on the morning of Sunday, August 27th. They joined four astronauts from Crew-6 and three crew members who traveled on a Russian Soyuz craft.
During their time on the ISS, the Crew-7 astronauts will be engaged in various experiments, with a particular focus on human health in spaceflight. This includes a new program called Complement of Integrated Protocols for Human Exploration Research on Varying Mission Durations, or CIPHER. This comprehensive set of 14 experiments aims to investigate how spaceflight impacts the human body over different durations.
CIPHER intends to gather data from up to 30 astronauts who spend varying lengths of time on the ISS. By collecting data before launch, during their stay on the station, and after their return to Earth, researchers will be able to study the changes in the body over time. Bone strength, eye health, cardiovascular functioning, and muscle atrophy are among the aspects being examined, as they are known to be affected by space travel.
Understanding the impact of duration on the body is a critical knowledge gap that needs to be addressed, according to Kristin Fabre, deputy chief scientist for NASA’s Human Research Program. While a standard rotation on the ISS lasts six months, more information is required about the long-term effects for missions to the Moon and Mars. The research team aims to continue running CIPHER until the end of the ISS mission, accumulating a wealth of valuable data.
The ISS is an ideal platform for studying such effects due to its microgravity environment, which mirrors the conditions that astronauts would encounter during journeys beyond Earth. The Moon has approximately one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, while Mars has roughly one-third. Low gravity causes fluid to pool in the upper half of the body, among other effects.
Although some health effects of long-duration space missions can be modeled through simulations called terrestrial analogs, certain factors cannot be replicated, such as radiation exposure and psychological aspects of isolation and confinement. Therefore, much of the human health research in spaceflight focuses on utilizing the knowledge gained from years of experience on the ISS and finding ways to apply it to missions beyond low Earth orbit.
For instance, combating muscle loss is a major challenge in space, which is why the ISS is equipped with an exercise system called Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED). However, this system cannot be used on future missions like Orion or Gateway. Thus, scientists need to find ways to miniaturize and adapt the technology for such exploration missions.
The Crew-7 members themselves will participate in the CIPHER experiments, although their identities will not be disclosed to protect their medical privacy. NASA makes the data public only after gathering information from at least five crew members, ensuring that it cannot be attributed to any specific individual.
While it may take several years for the CIPHER data to become publicly available, it will provide essential groundwork for safeguarding the health of humans during future missions beyond Earth and to other planets. Understanding the effects of prolonged duration in space is crucial before making confident recommendations for crew health during missions to Mars. CIPHER is specifically designed to bridge this knowledge gap.