Dubai: Why is space exploration important for humanity and the future? During the ongoing Dubai Future Forum, crew members of International Space Station’s Expedition 69 spoke about how scientific and technological experiments conducted onboard the ISS impact human life on Earth.
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, along with the rest of the crew – including commander Sergey Prokopyev, flight engineers Frank Rubio, Dmitri Petelin, Stephen Bowen, Woody Hoburg and Andrey Fedyaev, and UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri, who was part of the ground team, addressed a large audience during a panel discussion titled ‘Learnings from Space for Humanity’.
Hazza Al Mansouri, the first UAE astronaut to head to space, explained:“More than 200 scientific experiments and eight spacewalks were done by crew 69. The crew conducted many important missions including installing new light solar panels outside the ISS.”
Advances in biotechnology
Flight engineer Woody Hoburg explained one of the key experiments conducted by Expedition 69.
“We printed the first section of human meniscus (a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion between the shinbone and thighbone), using a sort of a biological 3D printer. What would usually become a puddle in gravity, in weightlessness we were able to print it.”
This means that it might be possible to print cardiac tissues in the future, explained the astronaut.
“Many of us worked on that experiment, all the hands were in the glovebox (an area on the space station which allows the crew to safely conduct research in microgravity) the team on the ground did a lot of troubleshooting. They helped with finding some solutions that eventually allowed us to succeed.”
Source: Nasa official website
“Other experiments included drawing our own blood samples for biological experiments, we received generic training for those skills. We are very invested in getting the results for researchers who have put in many years of work in these studies. As subjects we can get tired from taking our own blood samples multiple times, but we focus on getting it done correctly,” flight engineer Stephen Bowen added.
He went on to explain that scientific research done on space missions have served humanity in many ways including the field of health and medicine.
It was during these missions, for example, that astronauts understood that there is no magic pill for osteoporosis.
Astronaut Francisco (Frank) Rubio said: “In space, astronauts face bone density loss because there is no pressure of constant standing. During early years of space exploration, astronauts lost up to 20 per cent of bone density. Now it has reduced to five per cent.”
Bowen added that these observations about bone density and muscle mass helped researchers understand that “load-bearing exercises” (for strength training) were the only solution for diseases like osteoporosis.
The space missions have also succeeded in achieving in 90 per cent recycle rate for water, Bowen added.
“It is this technology that provides clean drinking water in countries where there was never clean water,” he said.
Meanwhile, Frank Rubio also said that even though space exploration uses a lot of resources, astronauts understand this and ensure that every minute spent in space is well utilised.
"Everything we do, all the innovation, is for the benefit of humanity. We don't just represent our respective agencies; we represent the entire world…. We use the opportunity to improve the [global] community," Rubio said.
Inspiring the younger generation
Talking about his first mission to space, Emirati astronaut Al Neyadi said: “I am grateful to have been able to represent the UAE and the region on this space mission.
“My mission was the second from the UAE (after Hazza Al Mansouri’s space flight in 2019). It was the longest Arab mission. We had teams working tirelessly preparing ahead of the space launch.”
The UAE and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre had detailed plans to reach students, explained Al Neyadi.
“We conducted many sessions for the public and schools from the ISS. One day, Stephen asked me: ‘Do you ever sleep?’
“The main target was to reach every student in the country,” he added, explaining that he wanted the younger generation to understand that space exploration might have been a difficult concept in the 1980s, but now it is possible.
He also explained how the UAE had invited school students to send in questions for the crew and held competitions with university students, challenging five universities to programme a robot for the space station.