KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), January 10, 2024 – More than two dozen investigations sponsored by the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory, many of which focus on the life sciences, will fly on Axiom Space’s third private astronaut mission to the orbiting laboratory. Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) aims to help expand a new era of privatized utilization of the space station that will bring value to humanity while enabling the development of a robust and sustainable market in low Earth orbit (LEO) by advancing research in microgravity.
Four astronauts are slated to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the space station no earlier than Wednesday, January 17, at 5:11 p.m. EST from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During a planned two-week mission, Axiom Space’s chief astronaut and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría (commander), Walter Villadei of Italy (pilot), Alper Gezeravcı of Türkiye (mission specialist), and European Space Agency (ESA) project astronaut Marcus Wandt of Sweden (mission specialist) will conduct more than 30 experiments.
Building on years of foundational research performed in microgravity, a number of these investigations aim to utilize the unique LEO environment to better understand an array of biological processes, including how spaceflight affects the human body, the mechanisms behind certain diseases, and how stem cell research can help lead to the development of novel therapeutics.
Below are some highlights of the investigations launching on the Ax-3 mission:
- The Sanford Stem Cell Institute (SSCI) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) will launch two investigations that continue to build on stem cell research conducted on previous Axiom Space missions as well as previous investigations sponsored by the ISS National Lab. For one project, the research team will study tumor organoids in microgravity to identify early cancer warning signs to better predict and treat the disease. Another investigation will evaluate changes in astronauts’ blood enzymes during and after spaceflight to better understand their role in health and disease. Results could help identify new therapies and new ways to target and treat cancer, potentially during the pre-cancer stage.
- An investigation from the National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) will use 3D brain models derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) of patients with Parkinson’s disease and primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) to study the mechanisms behind these and other neurodegenerative diseases. These models contain many different types of cells present in the human brain. In space, microgravity’s effects on the 3D cellular models can alter the onset and progression of disease markers. Findings could help lead to new therapeutics for treating neurodegenerative diseases on Earth.
- Several investigations will monitor astronaut health by comparing physiological and cognitive measures before, during, and after flight. The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) will continue research performed during Ax-1 and Ax-2 to measure physiological, cognitive, and emotional impacts of isolation and confinement in stressful environments like spaceflight. Another investigation from the Microgravity Associated Genetics Research Group (MESSAGE) will use the CRISPR gene editing system to identify immune system responses that could, in the future, indicate improved immune function for astronauts during long-duration space missions. Other investigations will monitor astronauts’ sleep, bone health, and cardiovascular health.
- A multipart plant science investigation from Türkiye will observe microgravity’s effects on two varieties of plants: Arabidopsis thaliana (a common plant in the mustard family) and Schrenkiella parvula (a close relative of A. thaliana that is known for its ability to grow in extreme environments and tolerate salt-rich environments). CRISPR gene editing technology will be used to target three specific genes known to play a vital role in the stress response of the A. thaliana plant. Results will help scientists evaluate whether CRISPR can be used as an effective gene editing strategy in plants in microgravity. The researchers will also analyze the salt stress tolerances of both plant species in microgravity. Data will be compared with ground-based experiments to see if microgravity plays a role in how each plant variety deals with salt stresses.
Through these private astronaut missions, Axiom Space and the ISS National Lab partner to expand access to the unique microgravity environment for the benefit of humanity. Ax-3 represents the first all-European commercial mission to the space station, further expanding spaceflight opportunities to more countries, companies, and people. In addition to the projects highlighted above, Ax-3 includes a strong focus on the scientific portfolios of the European nations represented on this mission, seeking to enhance scientific knowledge gained for humanity.
Download the high-resolution image for this release: Axiom-2 Launch
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About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Laboratory® allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve quality of life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology, and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space™ (CASIS™) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit our website.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, CASIS accepts corporate and individual donations to help advance science in space for the benefit of humanity. For more information, visit our donations page.
About Axiom Space: Axiom Space is building for beyond, guided by the vision of a thriving home in space that benefits every human, everywhere. The leading provider of human spaceflight services and developer of human-rated space infrastructure, Axiom Space operates end-to-end missions to the International Space Station today while developing its successor, Axiom Station – the world’s first commercial space station in low-Earth orbit, which will sustain human growth off the planet and bring untold benefits back home. For more information visit Axiom Space’s website.