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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Is Carrying First Spacesuit Materials to Mars – Here’s Why – SciTechDaily

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Advanced spacesuit designer Amy Ross of NASA’s Johnson Space Center stands with the Z-2, a prototype spacesuit. Credit: NASA

In a Q&A, spacesuit designer Amy Ross explains how five samples, including a piece of helmet visor, will be tested aboard the rover, which was launched on July 30.

NASA is preparing to send the first woman and next man to the Moon, part of a larger strategy to send the first astronauts to the surface of Mars. But before they get there, they’ll be faced with a critical question: What should they wear on Mars, where the thin atmosphere allows more radiation from the Sun and cosmic rays to reach the ground?

Amy Ross is looking for answers. An advanced spacesuit designer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, she’s developing new suits for the Moon and Mars. So Ross is eagerly awaiting this summer’s launch of the Perseverance Mars rover, which will carry the first samples of spacesuit material ever sent to the Red Planet.

While the rover explores Jezero Crater, collecting rock and soil samples for future return to Earth, five small pieces of spacesuit material will be studied by an instrument aboard Perseverance called SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals). The materials, including a piece of helmet visor, are embedded alongside a fragment of a Martian meteorite in SHERLOC’s calibration target. That’s what scientists use to make sure an instrument’s settings are correct, comparing readings on Mars to base-level readings they got on Earth.

Read on as Ross shares insights into the materials chosen and the differences between suits designed for the Moon and those for Mars. More information about SHERLOC and the rover’s science can be found here.

Prototype Astronaut Suit Calibration Target

This graphic shows an illustration of a prototype astronaut suit, left, along with suit samples included in the calibration target, lower right, belonging to the SHERLOC instrument aboard the Perseverance rover. They’ll be observed to see how they hold up in the intense radiation of the Martian surface. Credit: NASA

Why were these particular materials on SHERLOC’s calibration target selected?

Ross: The materials we’re poking at the most are meant to be on the outer layer of a suit, since these will be exposed to the most radiation. There’s ortho-fabric, something we have a lot of experience using on the outside of spacesuits. That’s three materials in one: It includes Nomex, a flame-resistant material found in firefighter outfits; Gore-Tex, which is waterproof but breathable; and Kevlar, which has been used in bulletproof vests.

We are also testing a sample of Vectran on its own, which we currently use for the palms of spacesuit gloves. It’s cut-resistant, which is useful on the International Space Station: Micrometeoroids strike handrails outside the station, creating pits with sharp edges that can cut gloves.

We included a sample of Teflon, which we’ve used in spacesuits for a long time as part of astronaut glove gauntlets and the backs of gloves. Just like a nonstick pan, it’s slippery, and it’s harder to catch and tear a fabric if it’s slick. We also included a sample of Teflon with a dust-resistant coating.

Finally, there’s a piece of polycarbonate, which we use for helmet bubbles and visors because it helps reduce ultraviolet light. A nice thing about it is it doesn’t shatter. If impacted, it bends rather than breaks and still has good optical properties.

How will SHERLOC check the samples?

Ross: On Mars, radiation will break down the chemical composition of the materials, weakening their tensile strength. We want to figure out how long these materials will last. Do we need to develop new materials, or will these hang in there?

SHERLOC can get the spectra, or composition, of rocks the mission’s scientists want to study. It can do the same thing for these spacesuit materials. We’ve already tested them on Earth, bathing samples in radiation and then analyzing their spectra. The results of those tests, conducted in ultraviolet vacuum chambers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, will be compared to what we see on Mars.

Will Martian dust be a challenge?

Ross: Sure, it’s an engineering challenge, but there’s no reason we can’t design things to operate in dust. We’re already developing things like seals that keep dust out of our bearings. Spacesuits have bearings at the shoulders, wrists, hip, upper thighs, and ankles. They all give an astronaut mobility for walking, kneeling, and other movements you’d need to get up close to rocks or maintain a habitat.

Remember, our suits inflate to over 4 pounds per square inch of pressure. That’s not a crazy amount of pressure, but it’s pretty stiff. When you put a human inside a balloon and ask them to move, they’ll have trouble. It’s as tight as the head of a drum. So we need to seal off the bearings so dust doesn’t gunk them up.

We are looking for other ways to protect the suit from Martian dust over a long-duration mission. We know that a coated or film material will be better than a woven material that has space between the woven yarns. The two Teflon samples let us look at that as well as the performance of the dust-resistant coating.

How much would spacesuit design differ between the space station, the Moon, and Mars?

Ross: Spacesuit design depends on where you’re going and what you’re doing. The ISS suit is designed specifically for microgravity. If you go on a spacewalk, you’re not really walking; you use your hands everywhere. Your lower torso is just used as a stable platform for your upper body. The suit is also exposed to two environmental sources of degradation: solar radiation and atomic oxygen. Atomic oxygen is different from the oxygen we breathe. It’s very reactive and can degrade spacesuit materials.

The Moon doesn’t have the atomic oxygen problem but is worse than Mars in terms of radiation. You’re pretty close to the Sun and have no atmosphere to scatter the ultraviolet radiation like you do on Mars. The Moon is a big testbed for the Artemis program. The environments of the Moon and Mars aren’t exactly the same, but the durability challenges — materials exposed over long periods of time at low pressures in a dusty environment — are similar.

On Mars, you’re farther from the Sun, and you have at least a little atmosphere to scatter the UV. But that’s when the duration of exposure starts to get you. You have to plan on being exposed on the surface most of the time. Mars spacesuits will be more like ones we use for the Moon and less like those for the ISS. I’m trying to make the Moon suit as much like the Mars suit as possible.

More About the Mission

Perseverance is a robotic scientist that weighs just under 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). The rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. Perseverance launched on July 30, 2020 and will land at Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.

A division of Caltech, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

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Calgary researchers zero in on gut bacteria as potent cancer fighter – The Province

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FILE – Dr. Kathy McCoy, director of the Western Canadian Microbiome Centre, explains the purpose of the facility on a tour prior to it opening in Calgary in this 2017 file photo.

Jeff McIntosh / CP

Employing intestinal bacteria could boost the effectiveness of some cancer treatment four-fold, say researchers at the University of Calgary.

Employing intestinal bacteria could boost the effectiveness of some cancer treatment four-fold, say researchers at the University of Calgary.

A lead scientist in an ongoing study said Thursday her team has made huge strides in understanding how such microbiomes supercharge the potency of immunotherapy in targeting cancer cells.

“We think the impact is huge,” said Dr. Kathy McCoy of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the U of C’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“With cancers (normally) susceptible to immunotherapy 20 per cent of the time, and it responds at 80 per cent, that’s a major increase in efficacy.”

A series of published studies on the approach dating back to 2015 hinted strongly at the potential of combining some forms of gut bacteria with immunotherapy in treating diseases like melanoma and colorectal cancer.

But scientists weren’t able to pinpoint how it worked, said McCoy, who set about using germ-free mice as research subjects.

“We’d have to identify a mechanism…we identified three bacteria that were in an animal model of colorectal cancer and we wondered if we could tease apart the differences in the microbiomes,” she said.

Her team noted immunotherapy by itself was conspicuously ineffective.

But the bacteria that worked, she said, activated a T-cell which ultimately takes on cancerous tumours, shrinking them significantly.

“The three specific bacteria by themselves turn on a first switch on the T-cells within the intestine,” said McCoy.

That bacteria generates a tiny molecule called inosine that interacts with the T-cells to boost the immunotherapy that in turn eradicates cancer cells.

Another bacteria, akkermansia, has also been found to be an effective tumour fighter, said the scientist, and like the other three bacteria, is one present in humans who have been the subject of some study.

“We actually found there was an increase in bacterium in the patients responding, but the studies were too small,” said McCoy.

The U of C studies using humans remain preliminary for now with researchers seeking grants to further and broaden that work, to focus on lung cancer and melanoma over several years, she said.

“We’re going to see if we can find this metabolite in the serum, or blood, and in feces and see if they’re working with the same mechanism,” said McCoy.

And there’s a strong likelihood that approach could be applied to a much wider variety of cancers, she added.

That latest work is set to be published in the magazine Science, which has highlighted earlier discoveries using gut bacteria to enhance the immune system.

Efforts that have pushed the envelope on the treatment, said McCoy, are “a purely Calgary” achievement and one that should help undermine public skepticism over the effectiveness of cancer research funding that’s often led to conspiracy theories.

“I don’t know what people expect – research has made amazing strides in developing cancer therapies,” she said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

On Twitter:

@BillKaufmannjrn

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ATLANTIC SKIES: Much more than a full moon – Learn about the phases of Earth's closest celestial neighbour – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Although I was wishing the night sky was devoid of the interfering light of the moon on the nights and mornings preceding and following the Perseid meteor shower’s peak dates last week, it did afford me the opportunity to pay closer attention to the slowly-changing phases of the moon.

Most people only notice the full moon, giving little, if any, attention to the other lunar phases. The changing phases of the moon follow a precise timetable, which, once you understand it, might help with your plans, and bolster your interest, to observe the moon.

It is always best to observe the moon, whether with a telescope or binoculars, in its quarter, crescent or gibbous phases. During these phases, the sun’s light strikes the moon at a shallower angle (as opposed to directly, at the full moon phase), highlighting the moon’s terminator (the line between the illuminated and non-illuminated sides), and markedly defining the moon’s mountains, ridges, and impact crater walls.

A lunar phase is defined as the shape of the sunlit portion of the moon’s surface as seen from Earth. The moon completely orbits the Earth in an average time of 29.5 days (referred to as a “synodic month” or a “lunation”), marking, essentially, the period between consecutive new moon phases.

Due to variations in the angular rate at which the Earth orbits the sun (based on the fact that the Earth’s orbital path around the sun is elliptical, rather than circular, in shape), the actual time between lunations varies between 29.18 days and 29.93 days (the average being 29.530588 days, or 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds).

As the moon orbits the Earth, and as the Earth orbits the sun (also an elliptical path), the area of the sunlit portion of the moon changes. As discussed in one of my earlier columns, gravity tidally locks one side (or face) of the moon towards Earth. Each moon phase depends on the position of the moon relative to the sun as seen from Earth, and the portion of the Earth-facing side that is illuminated by the sun.

There are four distinct lunar phases, with an average of 7.38 days between each of these phases. The first phase, the new moon, is when the sun and the moon are aligned on the same side (called a “conjunction”) of Earth. During this time, the moon is too close to the sun to be seen, and the side of the moon facing Earth is not illuminated by the sun (though, in fact, it is faintly lit by “earthshine”, which is washed out by the sun’s light). In the northern hemisphere, the new moon rises around 6 a.m., and sets around 6 p.m.

The next distinct lunar phase is the first-quarter moon, where the moon’s right side is 50 per cent lit by the sun. In the northern hemisphere, first-quarter moons are visible in the afternoon and early evening skies, rising around noon and setting around midnight.

Next is the full moon, with 100 per cent of its Earth-facing side illuminated. Full moons rise at sunset and set at sunrise.

The fourth lunar phase is the last-quarter moon, with 50 per cent of its left side illuminated. A last-quarter moon, visible from late night through the following morning, rises around midnight and sets around noon. It should be noted that the actual timing of the phases in the sky, and their location along the horizon, will vary with the latitude of the observer.

Between the four major phases, there are a number of intermediate phases: between the new moon and the first-quarter moon is the waxing (thickening), crescent moon (right side one to 49.9 per cent lit); between the first-quarter moon and the full moon is the waxing, gibbous moon (right side 50.1-99.9 per cent lit); between the full moon and the last-quarter moon is the waning (thinning), gibbous moon (left side 99.9- 50.1 per cent lit); and between the last-quarter moon and the new moon is the waning, crescent moon (left side 49.9 – 0.1 per cent lit).

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “the old moon in the new moon’s arms,” this refers to when the waning, crescent moon has shrunk to just a thin sliver. Also, the crescent moon (either waxing or waning) is sometimes referred to as the “Cheshire Cat Moon”, as it resembles, at some point, the glowing smile that the Cheshire Cat left hanging in the air when it disappeared whilst talking with Alice (in ‘Alice in Wonderland’).

On a clear night, look for “earthshine” on the unlit, back portion of the crescent moon – a faint illumination caused by indirect sunlight reflecting off Earth’s lit half striking that dark side.


This week’s sky

Mercury achieves superior solar conjunction (passes behind the sun as seen from Earth) on Aug. 17, and is not observable. Mars (magnitude -1.47) rises in the east around 11:30 p.m., reaching its highest point (49 degrees) in the southern sky shortly after 5 a.m., before being lost in the dawn twilight 47 degrees above the southern horizon by about 6 a.m.

Mighty Jupiter (magnitude -2.65) is visible in the southeast sky around 8:30 p.m., reaching 21 degrees above the southern horizon by 10:45 p.m., before sinking below eight degrees above the southwest horizon shortly after 2 a.m.

Saturn (magnitude +0.23) trails Jupiter across the evening sky, becoming visible to the left of the larger and brighter planet around 8:45 p.m., remaining visible until it, too, disappears from view as it sinks below 10 degrees above the southwest horizon around 2:30 a.m.

Until next week, clear skies.


Events

Aug. 17 – Mercury reaches superior solar conjunction

Aug. 18 – New moon

Aug. 20 – Moon at perihelion (closest approach to the sun)

Aug. 21 – Moon at perigee (closest approach to Earth)

Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. He welcomes comments from readers at glennkroberts@gmail.com.

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Calgary researchers zero in on gut bacteria as potent cancer fighter – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

“We’d have to identify a mechanism…we identified three bacteria that were in an animal model of colorectal cancer and we wondered if we could tease apart the differences in the microbiomes,” she said.

Her team noted immunotherapy by itself was conspicuously ineffective.

But the bacteria that worked, she said, activated a T-cell which ultimately takes on cancerous tumours, shrinking them significantly.

“The three specific bacteria by themselves turn on a first switch on the T-cells within the intestine,” said McCoy.

More On This Topic

That bacteria generates a tiny molecule called inosine that interacts with the T-cells to boost the immunotherapy that in turn eradicates cancer cells.

Another bacteria, akkermansia, has also been found to be an effective tumour fighter, said the scientist, and like the other three bacteria, is one present in humans who have been the subject of some study.

“We actually found there was an increase in bacterium in the patients responding, but the studies were too small,” said McCoy.

The U of C studies using humans remain preliminary for now with researchers seeking grants to further and broaden that work, to focus on lung cancer and melanoma over several years, she said.

“We’re going to see if we can find this metabolite in the serum, or blood, and in feces and see if they’re working with the same mechanism,” said McCoy.

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