‘Virus hunter’ astronaut shares details of science mission to Space Station

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins trains for spacewalks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Source: NASA)

In July, a self-proclaimed ‘virus hunter’ astronaut will launch aboard a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station, embarking on a four month, science-intensive assignment to the orbiting laboratory.

NASA’s Kate Rubins is counting down the days until the scheduled July 6 launch of Expedition 48/49, which will be the first spaceflight for the molecular biologist. Before her selection to the space agency’s astronaut corps in 2009, the 37-year-old helped developed the first ran a biomedical research lab that studied viral diseases like Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa Fever. Rubins even traveled Central and West Africa to conduct research and supervise study sites, her biography stated. Once aboard the orbiting outpost, she is planning to conduct several biological and human research investigations.

Rubins will spend four months in low Earth orbit along with crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The trio will join NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, who are already on orbit.

During an interview with KLTV news anchor Lane Luckie, Rubins shared her journey from being a Space Camp participant as a child, to her lifelong goal of visiting the Space Station.

Q: How do you prepare this moment on a personal level? What advice have you been given that’s not in a flight manual?

International Space Station Expedition 48/49 astronaut Kate Rubins of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Takuya Onishi. (Source: NASA)

A: “We do talk to other colleagues who have flown in space before, quite a bit. A lot of what they share is the day-to-day, just how to live on the space station, how to do your work efficiently, how to keep things from floating out of control when you reach your hand into a bag, but they also do tell you a little bit about how to prepare for a spaceflight. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is just enjoy every moment of it.”

Q: How is manned spaceflight still relevant for the future?

A: “I think it’s pretty amazing when you look at the international collaboration that we’ve been able to put together. Just think about the sheer size of the space station and the fact that humanity has been able to assemble something that’s the size of a football field, traveling 17 thousand miles-per-hour and orbiting around our planet. For me personally, I think one of the biggest impacts is the research potential that the space station has. We have the opportunity to understand how humans can live and work in micro-gravity, but we also have the opportunity to understand a lot of research questions that have a direct impact here on Earth. For example, diseases like osteoporosis, muscle wasting, and understanding basic biology and cellular behavior, as well as physics and material science.”

Q: What advice would you give to any East Texas schoolkids wondering if they have what it takes to become an astronaut?

A: “I think first of all, students should never doubt. They should always have that hope alive that they are going to do what they want to do in their chosen career. I think my biggest piece of advice for the students is that they should pick something they are incredibly passionate about. You have to be able to wake up every single morning and get out of bed and say, ‘I’m doing this not as a job, but I’m doing this because I love it and I think it’s fascinating and this is how I want to contribute to the world.’ And if that’s your overreaching career advice, wherever you end up settling is going to be a wonderful and an exciting place to be.”

Q: What are some of the must-have items you’ll be packing in your personal kit to take with you to the space station?

A: “I think for everybody, (it’s) family pictures, photos from home. That definitely takes up a lot of the space. You know, a few small things to remember your friends and family. You’re pretty far away from them and you are orbiting the Earth at all times, so just having those photos keeps it close to your heart.”

Q: How will your mission, Expeditions 48/49 get us closer to a manned mission to Mars?

A: “We actually have an incredibly complex research program. We have over 200 experiments and a lot of those are answering questions about diseases or issues we face on Earth. A lot of times when we’re answering those questions about what’s going on in a pathologic process on Earth, we’re also getting information about how we’re going to get to Mars. So we’re building a lot of the fundamental building blocks of how we send human beings beyond low Earth orbit, with our expedition and all of our future expeditions. One thing as a specific example, on our mission we’re flying a biomolecule sequencer. So we’re going to try to do DNA sequencing. This is the kind of instrumentation that you would want to send on a Mars mission if we’re going to be looking for signs of life on another planet.”

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Raycom Media. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2016 Lane Luckie



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