While NASA is often associated with deep space exploration and reaching for the stars, NASA and CASIS also share a common vision of reaching upward to space to benefit life down on Earth. Both support the ISS as an unparalleled platform for innovation and research that enables discoveries that cannot be realized on the ground. Two recently co-sponsored projects highlight this common goal.
By coming together in partnership, CASIS and NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Application Division (SLPSRA) recently joined forces to bring two projects to the ISS National Lab that otherwise may not have made it to orbit. Specifically, CASIS provided crew time that SLPSRA needed to conduct two fundamental-discovery protein crystal growth investigations sponsored by NASA.
Experiments that receive support from CASIS must benefit life on Earth, so the projects chosen for this co-sponsorship were carefully selected to fit the mission criteria of both NASA’s SLPSRA and CASIS. The two investigations, which were launched to the ISS aboard the Falcon 9 spacecraft on SpaceX CRS- 10 in February, are studying important aspects of protein crystal growth in space.
One of the projects will test widely accepted theories of why protein crystals grown in space are often higher quality than those grown on Earth. Similarly, the other project seeks to understand why only certain proteins benefit from crystallization in microgravity. Higher-quality crystals allow researchers to better image and identify structural details of the proteins, which helps scientists better understand protein-drug interactions.
Thus, microgravity-based crystallization studies may help to inform and improve drug development.
By observing the fundamental physical dynamics of how crystals grow in space, the co-sponsored projects will look for indicators that predict which proteins might benefit most from space-based crystallization. CASIS is working toward development of a sustainable program for crystallizing macromolecules, including proteins, in microgravity. These co-sponsored projects aim to fine-tune the selection of proteins and environmental conditions to maximize efficiency of such research on the ISS—to the benefit of NASA, the ISS National Lab, and diverse user communities.
“This partnership demonstrates the ability of the ISS National Lab and NASA to work together with researchers to continually improve the quality and quantity of science returned to Earth,” said Michael Roberts, CASIS deputy chief scientist. “The partnership will continue to optimize research capabilities in low Earth orbit and enable new collaborative projects.”