Ask an Astronaut: Biomedical Science Edition

NCATS collaborated with The Children's Inn at NIH, the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) and the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory (ISS National Lab) to host Ask an Astronaut: Biomedical Science Edition. The event took place Monday, September 23, 2019, at The Children’s Inn on the NIH Campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

This unique experience provided children receiving care at NIH the opportunity to talk to an astronaut in space. Participants learned about the importance of conducting biomedical research in a microgravity environment, including NCATS' Tissue Chips in Space projects that recently completed their first mission to the ISS.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague, currently living aboard the International Space Station, was chosen to share his experience in space and answer questions from children residing at The Children’s Inn at NIH.

Colonel Hague was selected by the NASA astronaut program in 2013. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to his selection to NASA’s 21st group of astronauts, Col. Hague was deployed to Iraq and taught classes at the U.S. Air Force Academy, including introductory astronautics and scuba diving. He is married to Lieutenant. Col. Catie Hague of the United States Air Force; has two children; and considers Hoxie, Kansas, his hometown. He was launched in March 2019 and will serve aboard the International Space Station as a flight engineer for Expeditions 59 and 60.

How "Ask an Astronaut" Worked

Children, or parents on their behalf, submitted questions for the astronaut in advance. Approximately 20 questions were preselected for children to ask the day of the event.

When the event began, ARISS connected with the ISS to The Children’s Inn via ham radio. Once the connection was established, the children began asking questions, and the astronaut responded to each one.

The ISS needed to be in the proper orbit with the connecting ham radio station on Earth, which means the transmission lasted no more than 10 minutes.

Once the transmission was complete, the children asked additional questions of NCATS, The Children’s Inn and ARISS representatives in attendance.

About the NCATS Tissue Chips in Space Program

Photo of Astronaut with hand out showing a tissue chip hovering above hand.

Image courtesy of NASA

NCATS has partnered with the ISS National Lab to collaborate on refining tissue chip technology for biomedical research use on the space station.

Translational research at the ISS National Lab provides unprecedented opportunities to study the effects of a microgravity environment on the human body. Tissue chip applications at the laboratory will enable studies of organs at the cell and tissue levels under reduced gravity, will contribute to our understanding of the process of aging and could reveal molecular targets that can slow that process.

In December 2018, NCATS worked with NASA to launch the first NIH-supported tissue chips into space for research. In May 2019, four additional NCATS-funded tissue chip projects took their first mission to the ISS.

About the ARISS Program

Photo of group of adults and kids smiling as little girl uses a device to talk to astronaut.

Image courtesy of ARISS

Through this ARISS program, the community becomes more aware of the substantial benefits of human spaceflight and the exploration and discovery that occur on spaceflight journeys. Participants learn about space technologies and the technologies involved with space communications through exploration of amateur radio.

Amateur radio organizations and space agencies around the world sponsor this opportunity by providing the equipment and operational support to enable direct communication with crew on the ISS via amateur radio. Hundreds of amateur radio operators around the world work behind the scenes to make these educational experiences possible.

About the ISS National Lab

For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously onboard the ISS, advancing scientific knowledge, demonstrating new technologies and making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration exploration into deep space and benefit life here on our planet. A global endeavor, more than 230 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,400 research investigations from researchers in more than 103 countries.

Photo of space station in orbit.

Image courtesy of NASA