| Space

A man of many talents - bridging laboratory and workbench

Dr. Jens Hauslage ist Biologe mit Hang zur Technik.

Jens Hauslage is a rare individual, even given the diverse nature of DLR – he is a botanist. What at first glance may seem to have little connection to DLR’s research areas, is, at closer inspection, intrinsically linked to spaceflight. Gravity, says the biologist, is the only constant in evolution. This raises the question: What influence does gravity have on terrestrial life? Cells, for example, react to microgravity conditions after just a few seconds of exposure. To investigate this, Jens Hauslage studies samples in space or under space-like conditions, on parabolic flights, inside drop towers, on satellites and on sounding rockets such as MAPHEUS. He does so primarily using instruments he built himself, as the biologist is also a keen engineer.

Scientist and engineer

Arbeiten zwischen Bauteilen, Steinen und Kabeln.

If desks and office windowsills reflect the personality of their owner, one look into Hauslage’s office is enough. Plant trays, electronic components, special stones, tools and assembled gadgets such as a clock depicting his estimated travel time home in the after-work traffic populate his immediate working environment. “I’m in both worlds – the world of research and the world of engineering,” he says. “They each have their own language and I understand them both.” Most of the time, experts of both fields work together well as a team, but the exchange between the different disciplines is not always easy. The botanist with a doctorate sees himself as a link, a liaison between the two: designing experiments, evaluating data and writing scientific publications, but also tweaking, testing, trying things out and finding technical solutions to problems. Jens Hauslage’s working day is always different and seamlessly weaves together both research and engineering. DLR, he says, is the place where he can flourish.

Biofilter for Earth and space

Hauslage has supervised and conducted around 15 experiments on board the sounding rockets of the long-standing MAPHEUS project. He has studied the whole spectrum of life: yeasts, animals and plants. Across 15 parabolic flight campaigns, he has experienced the effects of microgravity on his own body more than 600 times while operating and monitoring these instruments. One of his larger projects was the rotating Eu:CROPIS satellite, which launched a closed-loop life support system into space in 2018. This experiment saw tomato plants grown to flower in greenhouses inside the satellite under conditions representative of the Moon and Mars. A software problem prevented the experiment from being switched on – spaceflight is an activity with few guarantees. The C.R.O.P. biofilter developed by Hauslage for the experiment is nevertheless currently being used on Earth. Initially designed to convert astronauts’ urine into a nutrient solution for growing food during long-term missions in space, among other things, the biofilter will be used on Earth in the near future via the spin-off ‘Nunos’ to enable the conversion of biological slurry into an odourless nutrient solution for agriculture and the filtering of medicine residues out of wastewater.

Convincing through curiosity

Im Labor untersucht Jens Hauslage Proben.

“I see myself as an idea generator: I am driven by curiosity,” says Hauslage. He regards himself as a man of conviction, and is following a dream he has held since his primary school days. “I always wanted to be a researcher and do experiments.” Natural sciences were his passion: other subjects, less so. As a child, he would sit in front of the television to watch space shuttle launches or listen to the news about the Biosphere II project in the USA, in which a team lived within a closed ecosystem for two years. His first experience with a sounding rocket took place during his biology studies, before graduation, in which he took part in a Maxus 5 campaign. This took place in 2003 at the Esrange Space Center in Sweden. Since then, biology and spaceflight have been inseparable for Hauslage. “For me, spaceflight is the greatest inspiration for us on spaceship Earth, which is such a fragile and small home within the Solar System.” His ultimate goal is to help improve our understanding of the world in a way that brings together his love of science and technology.

Fool’s gold and puffball mushrooms for recreation

During the MAPHEUS 13 campaign in Sweden, where he is supervising two teams of young scientists conducting neurobiological experiments, he makes some small biological excursions around the integration hall during breaks. Lichens, mosses – Jens Hauslage appreciates all the survival tactics of biology. Fungi that spread their spores through clouds of dust when touched, for example. The biologist sees the beauty and sophistication of nature even in the smallest details. Again and again, he bends down and picks up stones - on the large balloon launch site, ‘gold’ shimmers in many stones. “It’s actually called pyrite, better known as fool’s gold.” Walking through nature clears his head in the meantime. The stones he finds go into his jacket pocket. So, the collection on his desk in the improvised campaign office will grow a little bigger again and share space with cables and relays.