Responsible Center: NASA KSC
Grant Monitor: Romeyn, Matthew
Center Contact: 321-867-6025
Solicitation / Funding Source: 2020 Space Biology NNH20ZDA001N-SB E.12. Flight/Ground Research
Grant/Contract No.: 80NSSC22K0214
Project Type: FLIGHT,GROUND
Flight Program: ISS
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|| Atmospheric pressure and composition are among the engineering variables considered in the design and construction of spaceflight vehicles and extraterrestrial habitats. Simply put, the costs of maintaining a pressure vessel at one atmosphere have been traded away throughout the history of spaceflight vehicle design and are traded away in future designs. And while the effects of hypobaria on plant biology are now well understood, there exist no studies on the combined effects of hypobaria and microgravity. In other words, the dominant physical manifestation of spaceflight, microgravity, has been left out of our understanding of plant hypobaria. We therefore propose to examine plant responses and physiological adaptations to the combined effects of low pressure while in the microgravity of the International Space Station (ISS).
The objective of this proposal is to develop a refined understanding of the metabolic processes involved in plant responses and physiological adaptations to low pressure environments within space exploration vehicles and habitats. The long-term goal of this line of research is a fundamental understanding of low pressure plant biology within exploration vehicles and structures, with a practical goal of contributing to the design of plants that thrive in challenging exploration environments. The essential drivers of this project are that hypobaric environments will likely be a feature of future exploration vehicles and habitats, together with the knowledge that plants mount complex and costly metabolic responses to hypobaria. Furthermore, plants mount complex and sometimes unexpected responses to spaceflight and altered gravity environments. We hypothesize that the combination of hypobaria and microgravity will have a synergistic effect on the physiological adaptation to this complex environment, and that the patterns of gene expression will reveal strategies to both understand and help ameliorate the combined effect. These responses will also inform fundamental understanding of how plants adapt to changing terrestrial habitats facing complex and novel stressful environments.
There is a facility on the ISS that is well suited for these experiments: the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR). The CIR has a pressure vessel that can be programmed telemetrically to the gas composition and pressures relevant to our study. There is also a CIR ground unit that can be similarly programmed for parallel ground controls, thereby enabling the precise dissection of the effects of the orbital environment on plant biology within the pressure vessel.
The proposed research will provide fundamental insights into the biological impact of novel atmospheric environments, a focus area that is itself specifically identified in the Decadal Study. (Ed. Note. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032). More importantly, this Hypobaric Plant Biology in Space Exploration study seeks to fundamentally examine combined spaceflight effects in order to develop an understanding of emergent response properties that are not predicable from an examination of the individual responses.