In the field of space medicine, German scientists from the Charité Hospital in Berlin (co-ordinator: A. Clarke) have already obtained important results on the way the balance system works, especially the interplay between the processes in the inner ear and the sight process to orientate yourself in space and in heart circulation regulation. Another experiment could prove that the accuracy of fine motor skills is affected when weightless which can be balanced by increased effort of thought. Doctors have also begun to work out the reasons for astronauts' immune systems to be affected in space. From this they are expecting to find out more general aspects of how the human immune system works.
Biotechnology is focussing on the crystallisation of proteins in weightlessness. The basis for analysing crystal structures is the most perfect possible crystallisation of the substances to be investigated which is achieved perfectly under weightless conditions in space. Precise knowledge of the structure is a pre-requisite for understanding their properties and functions in order to optimise, for example, the pharmaceutical applications of a specific protein. Information on the structure of different molecules could actually be improved as a result of space experiments. This happened, for example, with the mistel lectin used in immune stimulation and the fight against cancer. In some cases the astronaut scientists actually achieved crystallisation for the first time with some surface bacteria proteins.
Test Dummy in Space: the Matroshka experiment
In future researchers want to record the intensity and composition of radiation in outer space and its effect on organisms. This is another focal point of German ISS research. Using measurements taken inside and outside the space station, including those taken with Matroshka, developed by DLR in Cologne for ESA, they were able to gain significant information on the effect of exposure to radiation on astronauts. (Matroshka is a dummy, a mock-human of natural bone, simulated organs and synthetic skin).
2006 - Astrolab mission with astronaut Thomas Reiter
In the second half of 2006, the German, Thomas Reiter, was the first European astronaut to work on a long-term mission on board the ISS. During the six month Astrolab mission German researchers were the lead researchers in eight of the 30 scientific experiments and German institutes were involved with others. These experiments involved investigating the balance and immune systems in weightlessness, recording radiation in outer space and its biological effects and plasma physics. The mission was the start of European long-term research on the ISS.
A new era began for German scientists with Columbus. With its state-of-the-art facilities for research into biology, medicine and fluid physics and the equipment for astrobiology fitted onto the outside, Columbus will be available as the "laboratory in outer space" for the next few years of cutting-edge research under weightlessness.
Research goals for the next few years
In the next few years a large number of projects have already been identified for research in outer space. About 100 German projects have been accepted against international competition according to the best science principle and are now waiting to be implemented. As part of the primary aims of DLR's "Research under space conditions" programme, these projects define the specific research goals for the next few years.
The Columbus space laboratory is a joint European project led by the European Space Agency (ESA). Germany was and is heavily involved in the construction, operation and use of Columbus. The Columbus Control Centre is located in the German Space Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich.
You will find the research goals in the fields of biology and physics and an article on the industrial use of the ISS in the right hand column of this page in the form of .pdf documents.