Friday, September 30

We already have the first biology experiment in deep space ready. All thanks to Artemis-1

There are still months to go until the first manned mission of the Artemis program. However, Artemis-1, the first mission of this program scheduled to launch on August 29, will leave with life on board. It will be the first experiment of its kind and will put yeast cells into heliocentric orbit to study the effects of radiation.

Beyond our orbit.
The BioSentinel experiment will be one of 10 secondary missions that will depart with the Orion capsule, aboard a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in the context of the Artemis 1 mission, the inaugural launch of the highly anticipated Artemis program. The main objective of this program is to return the human being to the Moon, where he will have to face a problem of considerable magnitude: solar radiation.

Precisely analyzing the impact of solar radiation on living organisms is the objective of BioSentinel. The mission is to send into space on a minisatellite (cubesat) of about 12 kg a series of samples of yeast cells (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), a unicellular fungus of great culinary value that also has another valuable quality: a DNA with some similarities to ours.

BioSentinel’s cubesat will separate from the second stage en route to the Moon. BioSentinel will fly over our satellite to go into a heliocentric orbit similar to the one that the Earth makes around the Sun, far from the protection of the geomagnetic field. There, and after an initial check, the process to rehydrate the yeast samples and the experiment itself will begin.

NASA invites us to take our name to the Moon on the Artemis mission.  And he will do it on a flash drive

The effects of space radiation.
BioSentinel will analyze the effects of radiation on yeast cells. Radiation in interplanetary space is produced by atoms traveling at enormous speeds. Atoms, traveling at speeds close to the speed of light, lose their electrons, leaving only their nuclei.

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Astronauts who leave the protection of Earth’s magnetic field will be subjected to this dangerous ionizing radiation, capable of damaging our DNA like a bullet fired against a chain.

This is where the similarities between yeast and human DNA come into play. The double strand of yeast DNA can be damaged by this radiation in the same way as in humans, double strand breaks (DSBs) occur when DNA is exposed to charged energy particles such as special radiation. They are often inconsequentially repaired within the cell, a repair mechanism that is also shared by human cells and yeast. On other occasions these injuries can lead to complications.

Genetically modified yeast.
The BioSentinel probe will carry 16 samples of two yeast variants Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The first variant will be the “wild” one, which will serve as a control; while the second will have an altered gene to damage its genetic repair mechanism, so it will predictably accumulate more damage as a result of radiation.

The samples will gradually activate two at a time after the start of the mission. The probe includes an extraordinary sampler that will be activated in the event that a solar particle event (SPE) is detected, a radiation storm that would pose an aggravated risk to astronauts and electronic equipment in deep space.

One third of the study.
BioSentinel represents only a third of the research on the effects of radiation at the cellular level. A similar experiment will be carried out on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is not in deep space but in low orbit. This implies that astronauts and equipment are protected from the geomagnetic field. The second of the experiments will be carried out in this context.

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The third experiment will also be carried out under the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field but under terrestrial gravity conditions, unlike the microgravity experienced on the ISS. Experts will thus be able to have different references to the impact of space radiation on yeast cells and, by extension, on ours.

A journey parallel to that of Artemis.
The history of the BioSentinel mission has paralleled that of Artemis for virtually the last decade. The mission was selected as early as 2013 to accompany the Orion capsule as a secondary payload on the SLS (Space Launch System) Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) mission, then scheduled for 2019 or 2020.

Ten side missions.
Among the secondary missions, a total of 10, are various cubesats. One of them will be NEA Scout, which will have the objective of monitoring near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), and will use a solar sail as a form of propulsion. Lunar Flashlight will use a similar propulsion system, but its objective will be to explore the possibilities of exploiting resources in-situ.

Image | Unsplash/Commons

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