For the first time researchers are using air pumped out of the International Space Station’s air lock in order to get a better understanding about the levels carbon dioxide expelled by astronauts there for the benefit of both humans working in space, as well as those living on our planet. According to a report by the European Space Agency, the scientists have been examining the amount of nitric oxide expelled by NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoferetti provided both before the pair left on their mission, and followed by samples of their breath aboard the station back in January, and again last week.
While humans inhale oxygen to breathe, when we exhale we release gases carbon dioxide and nitric oxide (which is also found in car exhaust and cigarette smoke). The latter is produced in our bodies to regulate blood vessels and act as an antibacterial agent. It is also used by doctors to help them diagnose lung inflammation and asthma.
While terrestrial dust can be easily cleaned up with the use of damp rags and vacuum cleaners, particles generated in the weightlessness of space (including on moonwalks) are said to “circulate more freely and stick to astronauts through static electricity and has sharp edges.” As a result it is more likely to enter their lungs and do more harm.
According to lead investigator for the Airway Monitoring experiments, Lars Karlsson of Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet is hoped that the project will “open up new fields of research in reduced pressure in space.” He also stated that information gleaned will not only provide valuable health information for those traveling back to the moon and onto Mars, etc, and it will help scientists develop drugs that could eventually be designed based on exhaled nitric oxide measurements, to find the most effective molecules to treat inflamed airways and lungs here on Earth as well, where more than 300 million people suffer from asthma, etc.
Note: Virts and Cristoferetti are just two of 8 astronauts assigned to collect data on their lungs for this experiment. .