CLEVELAND – A new microscope aboard the International Space Station is expected to provide
scientists with the ability to study – in real time – the effects of
the space environment on physics and biology.
NASA recently began testing the Light Microscopy Module (LMM),
which is isolated from vibrations on the station to allow it to obtain high-resolution
images. The work will allow scientists to study the effects of the space environment
on specimens without the need to return the samples to Earth. Any living specimens
returned to Earth must endure the effects of re-entry through the atmosphere, which
could alter the samples.
Slides of (1) mouse tissue, (2) multiple samples and (3) a butterfly wing. Courtesy of NASA.
The microscope also will help fulfill the vision of a true laboratory
in space. The LMM is a microscopic fluids instrument that features an imaging light
microscope with laser diagnostics. Biological samples for the LMM that were launched
on the space shuttle Discovery’s STS-133 mission on Feb. 24, 2011, include
eight fixed slides containing yeast, bacteria, a leaf, a fly, a butterfly wing;
tissue sections and blood; six containers of live C. elegans
worms; a typed letter
“r”; and a piece of fluorescent plastic. The wing is from “Butterflies
in Space,” a previous study that involved students from around the country
and was flown into space in 2009 on the STS-129. In addition, some of the worms
are descendants of those that survived the space shuttle Columbia accident.
Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center
modified the commercial microscope in the LMM with 23 micromotors and cameras to
permit remote control operation. They expect that the module will perform the same
as a microscope on Earth.
In the future, the device could be used to assist in maintenance
of station crew health, to advance knowledge of the effects of space on biology
and to contribute to the development of applications for the exploration of space