Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor Talks Tech on the ISS
Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Louisiana State University Health’s New Orleans School of Medicine and an active member of NASA’s astronaut core. She spoke to Ariana Escalante and Andre Stone from the Digital Trends CES Experience Center as part of our ongoing coverage of CES 2021.
“Everything we do on the space station is absolutely incredible,” she says. “We have everything from manufacturing fiber optic cables to new life science techniques. When you look at where the space station is headed, the progress we’re going to make is staggering, ”she said.
Over 3,000 research experiments were carried out on board the International Space Station. But how does this affect our lives? “Almost 75 to 85% of our life science research … is intended for human health here on earth,” says Auñón Chancellor. “It’s not just about promoting human presence in space.”
For example, they are currently investigating how heart cells react in the microgravity environment. “If we could find out how some of these diseases can be better diagnosed or even cured on board the space station, it could well lead to human heart health,” said Auñón Chancellor.
Auñón Chancellor has spent nearly 200 days in space, and she says astronauts use technology to keep themselves at their peak. “It can be tough on the body. We train every day, ”she describes lifting weights in an environment that is weightless. “We have a special device … that uses a series of vacuum tubes to create a load so we can prevent some of this bone and muscle loss.” Wearable technology monitors your body’s responses, heart rates, and other health measures to ensure you stay healthy and alert.
As the astronauts record their health records, they are still somewhat tied to their home as any samples they collect – blood, urine, saliva, and even breath – must be sent back to Earth for evaluation. Auñón Chancellor hopes to one day be able to do all of this work on board the ISS.
“If I had some of this technology in orbit to analyze it in real time,” she says, “they could see it and think about treatment right there.” She points out that these devices need to be miniaturized in order to put them into space along with the thousands of other things they bring with them.
And what about the technology it uses in space? Does she wish any of this were more common on Earth? Auñón Chancellor speaks about the RNA sequencer, which was made much smaller for the ISS. “So you think how can we bring this back to earth? Can we take this out on the ground in a remote place on another continent and help them with their science? ” She asks.
As we are making ever bigger leaps into space for humanity, it will certainly not be easy. “One of the greatest threats to space exploration is space radiation,” she notes. [It’s] One of our greatest threats to human health because this unit cannot be seen, but we know it affects everything – including hardware and avionics. “The protection of man and machine from this radiation is therefore an important aspect in order to be able to penetrate further and further into the darkness.
What does the immediate future look like? Auñón Chancellor is enthusiastic about the diversity of people who get involved. “It’s exciting to see more women,” she notes. “It’s really great to see emerging groups of people wanting to spend time aboard the space station.”