An experiment prepared by the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) will be launched as part of NASA’s Artemis I mission to orbit the Moon on August 29.
The NRL experiment will use mushroom samples to study the effects of the deep space radiation environment outside of Earth’s protective magnetosphere.
“We are interested in factors that affect eukaryotic survival in space,” said Jennifer Yuzon, postdoctoral scientist in the Biomaterials and Systems Laboratory at NRL. “For our experiment, the fungus is our model organism, specifically Aspergillus niger, which is found in all human environments, including spacecraft.”
In addition to being present in the human environment, fungi are distinguished by their natural mechanisms of protection and repair of DNA damage caused by radiation. The experiment aims to understand the radiation shielding qualities of fungi, as well as to generally study how biological systems adapt to deep space.
The project’s experimental setup includes four different strains of the fungus. The samples include one wild-type strain and three mutated strains that have been genetically modified in the lab. Two of the mutated strains are defective in DNA repair pathways, while the other mutated strain is defective in melanin production.
“Examining the impact of melanin and DNA repair pathways in samples with the effects of both cosmic radiation and microgravity will increase our knowledge of how humans can be impacted on the Moon and beyond as we continue to explore more,” said Zheng Wang, NRL microbiologist and principal investigator of this project. “We also hope to gain knowledge for the development of new ways to protect astronauts and equipment during space travel. As fungi adapt to the space environment, they may also produce new biomolecules which may have therapeutic potential.”
While NRL has a long history in space exploration, dating back to testing the V-2 rocket in the late 1940s, this experiment marks a first in space for the lab. The fungal experiment will become the first biological project carried out at the NRL to be launched into space.
Once the Orion spacecraft completes its mission, the fungal samples will be returned to the NRL for further analysis.
“The mission lasts about 42 days in lunar orbit,” Yuzon said. “Then we will process our samples for survival, genomic and metabolic changes.”
The NRL experiment is one of four space biology investigations selected for the Biological Experiment 01 (BioExpt-01) mission aboard the Orion spacecraft by NASA’s Space Biology Program. During the Artemis I mission, fungal samples will be stored in a specialized biological research system in canisters in the crew compartment of NASA’s Orion capsule. According to NASA, all investigations are aimed at studying DNA damage and radiation shielding, which for lunar missions experience about twice as much radiation exposure as levels on the ISS.
NASA supported the NRL project as a space biology research opportunity. The Space Biology program is managed by the Life Sciences and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. DC
Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test as part of NASA’s mission to expand human presence on the Moon and beyond. The mission will demonstrate the performance of the Space Launch System rocket and test the capabilities of the Orion spacecraft for approximately six weeks as it travels approximately 40,000 miles past the Moon and returns to Earth.
As the NRL research team anticipates the launch day of Artemis I, they are already preparing for other experiments that will investigate their research questions. A planned future mission is a collaboration with the DoD’s Space Test Program, the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to send fungal samples to the ISS. Wang’s research group was also selected by NASA to study how melanized fungal cells adapt to Mars-like conditions using NASA’s Antarctic Balloon Platform.
“These three programs will give us a complete picture of how eukaryotes like fungi function in various spatial conditions,” Wang said. “In the future, we can develop better strategies to help astronauts explore deep space.”
The Artemis I mission is scheduled to launch Aug. 29 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 8:30 a.m. in a two-hour window, according to a NASA briefing.
Working in tandem: NASA networks empower Artemis I
Learn more about NASA’s Space Biology Program: science.nasa.gov/biological-ph … ograms/space-biology
Quote: Fungal experiment to launch as Artemis I payload (2022, Aug 26) Retrieved Aug 28, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-fungal-artemis-payload.html
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