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Jefferson University’s research will be done during the first private mission to the International Space Station


Three research teams at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have been selected to conduct a series of studies as part of next year’s “RAKIA” mission to the International Space Station. The visit will mark the first private mission of the Multinational Space Center.

The three Jefferson projects are among 44 that were selected for the mission, led by Ramon Foundation and the Israeli Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. The Ramon Foundation, based in Israel, supports entrepreneurship and space exploration in memory of Ilan, Rona and Asaf Ramon. Colonel Ilan Roman was an astronaut who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

Scheduled for January 22, 2022, the mission to the ISS will be piloted by SpaceX from Axiom Space, a Houston-based private aerospace technology developer. Four astronauts will fly in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule: Israeli astronaut Eyton Stibbe, mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, investor Larry Connor and philanthropist Mark Pethe. The name “Rakia” comes from the Hebrew word for sky.

“The Rakia mission selected all three projects submitted by Jefferson and our partners,” said Zvi Grunwald, executive director of the Jefferson Israel Center. “This mission is a very unique opportunity to understand life in space and how it affects human health.”

Each of Jefferson’s projects will examine the different effects of space travel on the human body.

• Urologist Dr. Paul Chung will investigate how low gravity and the space station environment can alter an astronaut’s urinary microbiome. He will work with colleagues to analyze urine samples collected from astronauts before, during and after the mission to see how good and bad microbes change.

• Neurologist George Brainard will lead a project that tracks stress and sleep among astronauts. The experiments will test stress interventions for novice astronauts. Astronauts will have wearable devices such as electronic Fitbits that will be connected to mobile applications on Earth. They will also complete a series of visual, auditory and behavioral tests, potentially developing ways to assist astronauts from Earth.

• Radiation oncologist Dr. Adam Dicker will work with a team to investigate the effects of space travel on immune dysfunction. Most astronauts face changes in the immune system, caused by enhanced responses to reactivated viruses that are actively dormant in the body. The group aims to analyze the baseline immune status of astronauts using sophisticated molecular analysis of more than 1,000 proteins from blood samples before and after space flight.

All projects involve time donated by astronauts and are dependent on funding and approval by NASA.


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