NASA's Artemis 1 to launch world's first deep-space biology mission
NASA will launch its Artemis 1 Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on August 29 and it will head to the Moon. The spacecraft will carry the Orion capsule and 10 CubeSats, including the BioSentinel mission - a cereal box-sized satellite that will be the first long-duration biology experiment in deep space. It will house yeast cells and shall study how space radiation impacts it.
Why does this story matter?
Cosmic radiation is extremely powerful and causes cancer. Astronauts leaving low-Earth orbit for long-duration missions will be exposed, and ensuring their safety is important. BioSentinel will contain yeast cells, as they are similar to human cells and carry genetic information in double strands of DNA. They will serve as test subjects for radiation experiments to find out the impact on humans in similar situations.
It will be a year-long mission
BioSentinel will travel to deep space and then enter an orbit around the Sun beyond Earth's magnetic field. Two strains of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae will be remotely activated to grow in the presence of radiation at different periods of the year-long mission. By comparing how the strains respond to radiation, the risks posed to humans during long-term space exploration will be ascertained.
A brief look at the BioSentinel mission
The BioSentinel weighs 13.6kg and will house yeast cells in small compartments inside microfluidic cards. The data relating to radiation levels and yeast growth/metabolism will be collected and stored on the satellite and then beamed to a research team on Earth. If the satellite encounters a severe radiation storm from the Sun, a reserve set of microfluidic cards with yeast samples will get activated.
Experiments similar to BioSentinel will be held on the ISS
Besides the BioSentinel mission in deep space, identical experiments will also occur under different gravity and radiation conditions. One will be done on the International Space Station in microgravity but with less radiation, while others will be held back on Earth. Using this data, researchers will be able to interpret the effects of space radiation exposure and reduce risks associated with long-term human exploration.