Touch array of the Touching Surfaces experiment © DLR: All rights reserved.
30 August 2021
In two months, German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer will set off on his mission to the International Space Station ISS, and preparations are underway. The experiments which he will supervise during the mission are already there: on Sunday, the first part of the 36 German experiments of his mission "Cosmic Kiss" was brought to the ISS on behalf of the US space agency NASA with a Dragon capsule of the US space company SpaceX from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Three experiments from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne are also on board:
Please touch! Testing new antimicrobial surfaces on the ISS
Long-term stays of humans in a space station lead to the development of their own microflora from the microorganisms carried along. This can have an impact on the health of astronauts, especially if their composition changes under the conditions of space flight. It has also been shown that biofilms lead to material damage. Therefore, new concepts for cabin hygiene are needed. With the "Touching Surfaces" experiment, new types of laser-structured surfaces are being researched for their antimicrobial effect under space conditions. The various surfaces will be touched regularly during the mission and then examined on Earth by microbiologists and material scientists. Prof. Dr. Ralf Möller, scientific lead, and Katharina Siems, staff member of the Department of Radiation Biology of the Institute of Aerospace Medicine and the partners Saarland University (Prof. Dr. Frank Mücklich & Daniel Müller), University College London (Malica Schmidt) and the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences (Microbiome Center) are looking forward to the start of their experiment: "The results of this project will enable us to design antimicrobial contact surfaces in a more targeted manner and thus efficiently prevent the spread of germs and biofilms. Areas of application for such contact surfaces include astronautical space travel as well as earthly public facilities and means of transport, hospitals or food industry," explains Ralf Möller.
Involved in the "Touching Surfaces" experiment are pupils, students, teachers as well as the interested public as part of "Citizen Science" via interdisciplinary research. They get up-to-date insights into biology, medicine, physics, chemistry and material sciences. Identical sample carriers are tested by pupils and students, among others, similar to astronaut Matthias Maurer, to find out how microorganisms spread and what measures can prevent this spread.
BIOFILMS - Understanding the formation of bacterial biofilms
Another experiment from microbiology is "BIOFILMS" which will investigate the formation of bacterial biofilms on novel, antimicrobial metallic surfaces on the ISS. In preparation, nano-structures were created on various surfaces with lasers to prevent bacteria from settling on the surfaces. On the ISS, the interaction between the various surfaces and the bacteria/biofilms will be analysed under space conditions. The aim is to contain contamination with microorganisms in space and prevent material damage. These methods serve to fundamentally understand the formation of biofilms and can also play a role in reducing germ contamination, for example in hospitals or in industry.
Partners are the German Space Agency at DLR, the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Saarland University and ESA.
Retinal Diagnostics tests on a parabolic flight © DLR: All rights reserved.
Retinal Diagnostics - Detecting changes in the optic nerves
The technology tests that Matthias Maurer will carry out during his mission on the ISS also include the technology transfer project "Retinal Diagnostics". This experiment was developed from research conducted at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne and is a mobile, AI-supported diagnostic for the eye health of astronauts. Changes to the optic nerves caused by the influence of weightlessness are serious impairments for astronauts in space travel. However, the examinations are also important for neurological emergency medicine on Earth. During the mission on the ISS, the optic nerve head is to be measured for preventive and diagnostic purposes with the help of images taken with a very small, lightweight camera. In this way, changes can be tracked, but also the success of countermeasures can be determined. In the future, the device should be able to determine automatically with the help of artificial intelligence whether there are corresponding changes in the eye. Solving this problem is of crucial importance for future moon and Mars missions. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, DLR Technology Marketing and the European Astronaut Centre EAC in Cologne are involved.
Further information: Kick-off for 'Cosmic Kiss'