The Deep Space Gateway Just Keeps Getting Better!

Picture of the Perseid Meteor Shower of 2015.

More Deep Space Gateway! What were you expecting? In February 2018, Researchers at NASA from the NASA Johnson Space Center have started thinking about even more applications of the Deep Space Gateway. The next proposed addition is to characterize comets and asteroids though the collection of cosmic dust in the space between the Earth and the Moon (cislunar). Every year the earth moves through debris streams of dust and small particles from comets and asteroids crossing into Earth’s orbit. These debris areas create what we commonly call meteor showers. By using a device installed on the DSG, we could figure out the composition of a dozen or more comets and asteroids without leaving the space around our moon. The Deep Space Gateway is a perfect fit for this experiment because cosmic dust samples are not very large, and its permanent orbit allows for long collection periods. The current working name for the device is the Dust Analyzer.

The team gave both a science description and instrument operation for the device. Using the Dust Analyzer, the researchers will be able to analyze the elemental and potentially isotopic composition of comets and asteroids. Since we can already identify the parent object of many areas of cosmic dust, measuring the composition of these areas will give us detailed information about a large number of the asteroids in cislunar space. The researchers said that the experiment will give light to two things. The first is that the data will help provide information on the origins of never before researched asteroids. Also, the results will increase the scientific value of NASA’s Cosmic Dust collection by mapping its contents to individual comets and asteroids. Even the experimental process used by the Dust Analyzer is cool! The Analyzer would create dust debris that hits it at high velocity and that dust would be converted into ionized gas for analysis! There’s a lot of fascinating ideas coming from the Deep Space Gateway, so I can’t wait to see which ideas are presented next and what actually gets implemented!




Fries, M., Fisher, K. 2018. Direct Characterization of Comets and Asteroids via Cosmic Dust Analysis from the Deep Space Gateway. NASA Technical Reports Server. 20180002181.

Kepler Might be Out with the Exoplanets, but TESS Will be Out with the Indo-planets

The size comparison of Earth like exoplanets.

In March 2018, Jack Lissauer of NASA’s Ames Research Center talked about the new phases of NASA’s efforts to identify and research exoplanets. What’s an Exoplanet you ask? Well, it’s a planet that orbits around a star outside of our solar system, much like our Earth does to our Sun. The first phase of this effort started in 2009 when NASA launched the Kepler Spacecraft on a mission to identify Exoplanets. Over the next four years, the Kepler Spacecraft delivered outstanding results by identifying more than 4,000 candidate planets. After detailed investigations, more than 2,000 of these planets were deemed as exoplanets. In 2013, the spacecraft lost two important reaction wheels that control small position adjustments, but it was still able to be repurposed in to see many fields on the sky for short periods of time. This new mission was labeled K2 and the Kepler was able to identify an additional 600 potential exoplanets. Approximately 200 of those planets have been verified. These last 600 planets are closer to the Earth then the previous missions, so it’s possible that one day we might be able to get a closer look! Kepler has done all it can do, so now it’s time to transition to the new phase and launch a planet hunter named TESS.

TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) will be launched into outer space in 2018. Its primary mission is to survey most of the sky for more exoplanets, but with emphasis on those planets orbiting nearby or around bright host stars. With these criteria, it will make the located planets more suited to follow up observations, such as the characterization of atmospheric compositions and other properties. During the search for exoplanets, more than one third of the planet candidates that were found were associated with target stars. Target stars are only visible every few hours and Kepler was required to continuously monitor them during exploration. When a candidate planet was found around a target star, it was often the case that another candidate planet was found around that same star.  These clusters were called “multis” and the scientists discovered that this configuration was quite common and more likely to yield actual planets after research.  This large number of “multis” told the scientists that flat multi planet systems like our solar system are common in the universe! With all of these great discoveries made by Kepler and K2, who knows what TESS will come up with!




Lissauer, J. 2018. Transiting Planets from Kepler, K2 & TESS. NASA Technical Reports Server.


Storm Chasers: SPACE EDITION

View of a Cyclone from Space.

The Deep Space Gateway is back and better than ever! On February 28th Timothy Lang, a Research Aerospace Technologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, gave a talk a about The Deep Space Gateway Lightning Mapper (DLM) at a Deep Space Gateway Concept Science Workshop in Denver, Colorado. Lang introduced the concept of the Lightning Mapper, what it will do, and why it is important to be incorporated on the Deep Space Gateway. The Deep Space Gateway Lighting Mapper will be used to help track global change and thunderstorm processes by looking at high latitude lightning. It is planned to combine data from the sampling of individual thunderstorms with observations of the lightning at high latitudes. High latitudes are the areas greater than 50 degrees and occur nearer to the north and south poles of the Earth. Some questions the scientists want to answer are, “How is global change affecting thunderstorm patterns?” and “How do high-latitude thunderstorms differ from low-latitude?”

The Deep Space Gateway’s orbit provides a continuous view of the high latitudes of Earth and makes it the best place to monitor lightning. These regions are not well covered by current lighting mappers and other types of orbits have many drawbacks that prevent continuous coverage. Lang continued to pitch the project in the rest of his presentation. He highlighted the fact that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has declared lightning an essential climate variable that can provide important information about our ozone and atmospheric precipitation. Also, 75% of wildfires in high latitudes are caused by lightning, so many governmental departments are interested in becoming partners in the effort. In other words, we hope he gets the money!


Lang, T., R. J. Blakeslee, D. J., Blakeslee, R.J., Cecil, D.J., Christian, H.J., Gatlin, P.N., Goodman, S.J., Koshak, W.A., Petersen, W.A., Quick, M. and Schultz, C.J. 2018. The Deep Space Gateway Lighting Mapper (DLM) – Monitoring Global Change and Thunderstorm Processes Through Observations of Earth’s High-Latitude Lighting from Cis-Lunar Orbit. NASA Technical Reports Server. 20180001589.

Want to be an Astronaut? Better Start Eating Your Fruits and Veggies Now

Even Astronauts in space get sick and NASA is trying to help them live healthier lives. In 2017, Researches at NASA, The University of Texas Medical Branch, and the J. Craig Venter Institute started a program to study how spaceflight impacts human physiology, the immune system, and the microbiota in the gut. Microbiota are organisms that live in your digestive tract that help to break down the food that you eat. Since diet is one of the few thing that NASA can actually control on spaceflights, the team designed an experiment to study diet of astronauts in a stimulation on earth. The scientist believed that eating more fruits and vegetables and things like omega-3 fatty acids and lycopene would actually improve the immune response, gut microbiota, and nutrition of astronauts. This improved diet should improve the health of the crew and reduce any negative physiological effects caused by space flight.

In order to perform this study, the researchers will compare what astronauts eat now on the International Space Station to the new diets that included more fruits and veggies. Four 45 day mission tests will be executed in a closed chamber that mimics flight in space. The participants will have bio sampling done both before and after their time in the simulation chamber. The research team plans to record dietary intake, immune markers, profiles of gut microbiomes, and nutritional status biomarkers and metabolites. After the data is collected, statistical evaluations will determine if the new diet improved the health of our astronauts. There has already been data collected from two crew members during the first mission, entitled Campaign 4 Mission 1. A second mission was attempted but the results were not valid because it had to be cut short due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey. After the completion of the study, the hope is that an improved diet will keep our astronauts healthier and hopefully ease the transition back to Earth!



Douglas, G. L., Zwart, S. R., Young, M., Kloeris, V., Crucian, B., Smith, S. M., Lorenzi, H. 2018. The Integrated Impact of Diet on Human Immune Response, The Gut Microbiota, and Nutritional Status During Adaptation to a Spaceflight Analog. NASA Technical Reports Server. JSC-CN-40467.

The Race to Mars: The Ins and Outs of How it Will Happen via the Deep Space Gateway

Picture of the Red Planet

For many, the fantasy of going to Mars will soon become a reality. In 2017, Michelle Rucker and John Connolly of the Mars Study Capability Team at NASA gave a PowerPoint presentation on the specifics of just how humans will get to Mars. A key aspect of this mission will be the Deep Space Gateway (More information on DSG can be found in my blog post from last week!). As a quick refresher, the Deep Space Gateway is a space station/area around the moon that will allow people to inhabit the space between the Earth and the Moon (cislunar) and will aid in transporting astronauts to Mars.

The team began their presentation by discussing how the Mars mission fits into the vision for coordinated human and robotic exploration of our solar system. This vision is entitled the Global Exploration Roadmap and one of its main goals is to explore and have astronauts live on Mars and in space. The pair of researchers highlighted the Deep Space Gateway as a way to “provide a convenient assembly, checkout, and refurbishment location to enable Mars missions”. After explaining the role of the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), the team went into the specifics of the phases of the project and the parts of the Mars mission.

After the set up and construction of the DSG and its components (Phase 1), Phase 2 begins with a 180 day Deep Space Transport (DST) checkout and a one year shakedown cruise. During this cruise, the Deep Space Gateway remains in orbit and is supplied with astronauts and cargo by the Orion capsule. At the same time, the DST takes a path that encircles the moon to simulate the deep space trip to Mars.  This piece is critical, as the DST will be the vessel that actually takes astronauts to Mars.

Phase 3 consists of our first mission to Mars via the DST! Phase 3 is only a “fly by.” The DST enters Mars orbit without interaction between humans and the Mars surface. This will prove our technical ability to travel all the way to Mars from Earth.  The most interesting things occur in Phase 4, when the first humans will be landing on Mars. The first three missions of Phase 4 will revisit the same landing site in order to create a field station on the Mars surface. The Deep Space Gateway will also play an important role, as it will provide an easy access point in order to make any necessary repairs to the Mars mission.

OPINION: This project has been going for a LONG time, but unfortunately there is still a long way to go, and we won’t see anyone standing on Mars until the 2030’s. It’s incredible to think that all of this progress has been made, but we are still so far away. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but I’ll be happy and very interested to see where NASA goes with this.


Rucker, M., Connolly, J. 2017. Deep Space Gateway – Enabling Missions to Mars. NASA Technical Reports Server: JSC-E-DAA-TN49931.

NASA’s NextSTEP into Space? A Real Life Deep Space Station? What is this Star Trek?

Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy

Ever wanted to live in Space? Well, that dream might be closer than you think. In 2018, researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center released an update paper on the progress of NextSTEP Phase 2. What’s NextSTEP, you ask? It stands for NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program. This program is a public-private partnership that wants to seek commercial development of deep space exploration, such as extensive human spaceflight missions. The first phase of NextSTEP kicked off in 2014, when NASA made the announcement of plans to inhabit the area of space between the earth and the orbit of the moon (cislunar). These plans were created to leverage the commercialization of low earth orbit and will be part of the Deep Space Gate Way. The Deep Space Gateway is a space station planned by NASA for construction in the 2020s (stay tuned to our blog for more information on the Deep Space Gateway).

In 2016, NextSTEP Phase 2 selected five commercial companies to start creating ground prototypes. To ensure that these prototypes can be successful, a test team of NASA engineers has been developing evaluation criteria since 2008. Also known as the ground test protocol, these evaluation criteria are the most important part of Phase 2 of the NextSTEP program. The protocol was created by using both a top-down and bottom-up approach. The top-down approach was based on the exploration goals from the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), and the flight objectives from the NASA Future Capabilities Team (FCT), Evolvable Mars Campaign (EMC) and the Human Health and Performance (HH&P) teams. The bottom-up approach was written by the same set of organizations but included all of the smaller details of the mission from logistics to avionics, and Mission Control Center operations. After completion, the teams decided that the ground tests will be evaluated using inspection, demonstration, analysis, subsystem standalone testing, and human in the loop (HITL) testing. Finally, the team will recommend the best habitation platform to advance to stage 3!

OPINION: As I understand it, aspects of the Deep Space Gateway are going to be extremely helpful for other missions including travel to Mars and further into the galaxy. The DSG reminds me of Yorktown Station from Star Trek Beyond. However, our Deep Space Gateway will spend more time in Earth’s orbit then floating around in space with Starfleet like the fictional Yorktown. It’s going to be interesting to see just how far we can take this program.


Beaton, K. H., Chappell, S. P., Bekdash, O. S., Gernhardt, M. L. 2018. Development of a Ground Test and Analysis Protocol to Support NASA’s NextSTEP Phase 2 Habitation Concepts. NASA Technical Reports Sever: JSC-CN-39874.

Putting Too Much Heart into Space Exploration? Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer in Astronauts

The effect of space radiation on astronaut health has always been a concern of NASA and its astronauts. With space flight, there are numerous possible health challenges that can occur, but radiation and its effect on cardiovascular disease and cancer is at the top of NASA’s list. The difficulties and costs of space travel make it hard to measure these effects. In spite of these challenges, in 2018 researchers at The University of Texas, National Cancer Institute, NASA Johnson Space Center, and MEI Technologies conducted an observational cohort study of astronauts and found that there was no over exaggerated risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease due to space radiation. However, these results were not completely conclusive and doubts still remain.

The team selected astronauts from 1959 to 1969 and looked at their medical records from birth to death, or 2016, which ever came first. Their data was collected from the Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health program at the NASA Johnson Space Center. The astronauts that were used in the study participated in the Mercury through Space Shuttle programs.  A diverse population was not possible as all astronauts of the time were white males, and some of the included subjects never even flew a space mission.  In total, there were 73 white males (49 living and 34 deceased) that participated in the study.  The health hazards of smoking were not well known at the time, so this group maintained similar smoking patterns as the general U.S. population.  It would be much more difficult to find a single astronaut that smokes today! NASA carefully measures radiation exposure to its astronauts and the total doses ranged from 0 to 74.1 mGy (milligrays). After comparing with the United States white male population, the overall mortality rates of the astronauts that were used in the test fell well below the national average!

Although the researchers found that space radiation doesn’t lead to risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease, they decided that the findings were not conclusive, only because they used such a small sample. It is also possible that the astronauts in the population had a reduced cardiac risk because they were in better physical condition than the average U.S. white male of the time. The researchers want to look more into this topic by using epidemiology data with cell and animal studies to back up their findings on the risk of space radiation.


Elgart, S.R., Little, M. P., Campbell, L. J., Milder, C. M., Shavers, M. R., Huff J. L., Patel, Z. S. Radiation Exposure and Mortality from Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer in Early NASA Astronauts: Space for Exploration. NASA Technical Reports Sever: JSC-CN-40709.


“How would you like to see the beginning of everything?”: New telescope, JWST, to be launched in 2018

Picture of the JWST's large mirror plate
The James Webb Space Telescope being worked on by a team member at NASA.

With help from the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), researchers at NASA have been working for the past few years on a new telescope designed to surpass The Hubble Space Telescope. In January, Matt Greenhouse from the JWST Project office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center presented about The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Mission and its progress. Set to launch later in 2018, JWST, named after the second administrator of NASA, James Webb, is designed to look back in time to the very first galaxies. The Hubble Space Telescope can only look back one billion years (although it has been known to look back a little further than one billion years) and the universe is 13.7 billion years old.  Light from the most ancient galaxies is emitted in the ultraviolet spectrum which eventually stretches to infrared as it travels through expanding space.  Unlike the Hubble, JWST is engineered to see in this infrared spectrum.

The JWST will have many other uses once it is launched. It will be able to see stars form so we can finally understand how stars are born. We will be able to watch how planetary systems are formed and how they evolve. A skill that will be very import for humans in the future is our ability to understand planets that orbit a star outside our solar system (exoplanets). JWST utilizes spectroscopy, a branch of research that looks at the spectra an objects reflects when in contact with or gives off electromagnetic radtion, to allow us to monitor atmospheres and possible life on these exoplanets that might allow us to find a new home far in the future. JWST will even be capable of looking at our own solar system. There are so many possibilities from looking at our sun and seeing the first solid bodies that were formed 4.567 billion years ago. JWST will even let us map out our future to when the sun becomes a red giant and destroys earth (currently estimated at 8 million years from now).

As amazing as this sounds, it’s been a massive technical project. JWST had to be designed to operate in very low temperatures (cryogenic) and it will be the largest cryogenic telescope ever constructed. The team had two main problems: the mirror from the telescope is bigger than the Ariane Rocket Fairing (a rocket fairing is the nose cone that protects the item that is going into space through launch), and it was hard to create a high stability cryogenic operating temperature (-233 degrees Celsius, -388 degree Fahrenheit). The telescope is made up of three important elements: an optical telescope, an integrated science instrument module, and a spacecraft. The mirror is a major accomplishment in itself because it is made up of multiple mirrors that will be able to work together as one big mirror. The mirrors were crafted from Beryllium because it conducts heat well, does not expand and contract with a large changes in temperature, and is lightweight and rigid.

Workers posing in one of the JWST mirrors.
JWST crew posing in one of the large mirrors that make up the giant optical telescope.

Overall, 3,200 bonded composite pieces were put together to build the telescope. The JWST will be transported by ship through the Panama Canal to French Guiana for its launch during 2018. When launched, it will be placed in orbit 1.5 million km from earth to help with the passive cryogenic cooling. Ultimately the telescope will be able to see the whole sky which will lead to very interesting discoveries in the next few years.


OPINION: I can’t believe the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t going to be the new cutting edge technology anymore. The Hubble Space Telescope was a part of my childhood so a part of me is sad to see it go.  However, this new telescope is so exciting, I think I could forgo my sadness. I’m really excited to see what comes out of this new telescope and I’ll be sure to live stream its launch when it goes up later this year.


Greenhouse, M. 2018. The James Webb Space Telescope Mission. NASA Technical Reports Server: Oral/Visual Presentation, GSFC-E-DAA-TN51070.

Space Headaches?! : NASA Looks at How Cephalad Fluid Shifts Affect Retinal Blood Vessels

On October 25th, 2017 (published by NASA in 2018), researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View California explored the differences in pre and post vascular pressure in International Space Station Crew members and Head Down Tilted (HDT) Bed Rest patients. This study found that venous responses to these long-duration phenomena were marked by a decrease in vascular densities in the retinas of crew members and an increase in subjects after HDT. It is well known that long term space travelers experience “Space” headaches due to cephalad fluid shifts increasing fluid pressure in the upper body. Cephalad fluid shifts occur when an astronaut experiences more fluid then normal in their upper body due to the lack of gravity forcing the fluid down. This effect is easily seen in the puffy faces of astronauts in space.

Astronaut floating in space on the ISS
Astronaut Karen Nyberg floating in the International Space Station. You can somewhat see her puffier face in this image.

The researchers used a 30 infrared (IR) Heidelberg Spectralis® machine (a more advanced version of that fun puff test you get at the doctors) to determine that the vascular part of the retina in the eyes decreased in crew members after space flight yet increased in subjects after HDTBR. Pictures from Spectralis were looked at by VESGEN, a new automated software developed to discover vascular diseases in the retina and other tissue. The pictures created a map of blood vessel diameters and densities utilizing a new measure of vascular space-filling capacity called . The experiment used four people who experienced HDT and eight ISS crewmembers for the project. The VESGEN program performed two distinct tests on these individuals. Test one did not disclose if the left and right retinas were from the ISS travelers or HDT patients, while test two matched the pairs for each subject to display the effects of either HDT or space flight.

The researchers were surprised to see that 11 out of 16 retinas of the crew members’ space-filling capacity of their retinal vessels decreased and that 6 out of 10 retinas of the HDT patients vascular densities increased. The researchers believe that this difference mostly comes from lack of imaging that can capture smaller vessels rather than from vessel growth or decay. They also said that six months on the ISS compared to seventy days on HDT and the presence of microgravity and gravity may also have a large effect. However, there is still room to improve! The biostatistical and medical analyses of the images will have the final say on whether the VESGEN findings were correct or not.

OPINION: Who knew that main reason astronauts have space headaches was because of excess fluid on on their optic nerves! I think it’s very possible that VESGEN outcomes are true. As an aspiring optometrist myself, I found these results to be pretty cool. I’ve never really heard about the effects of almost no gravity on vision, but it makes sense right? Vision has to be compromised somehow with all of that extra fluid in the upper body. However it was a very small sample size so the VESGEN outcomes might be wrong, but then again its expensive to send people to space and hard to get people to do HDT for seventy days.


Murray, M.C., Vizzeri, G., Taibbi, G., Mason, S. S., Young, M. H., Zanello, S. B., and Parsons-Wingerter, P. A. 2018. Differences in Pre and Post Vascular Patterning of Retinas from ISS Crew Members and HDT Subjects by VESGEN Analysis. NASA Technical Reports Server: JSC-CN-40700.