Chromatography for Keeping Astronauts Safe

Jul 24, 2014
By LCGC Editors

Space: The final frontier. Although, this is a frontier that is becoming ever more accessible, but what does it take to survive in space and how can chromatography help to keep astronauts safe?

The first component of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998, and heralded a new era in space travel and international collaboration. The ISS is in a low earth orbit (~266 miles) travelling at speeds of 17,100 mph (7.66 km/s), allowing it to orbit the Earth in ~90 minutes; this means that the astronauts who are resident on ISS see 15 sunrises and sunsets every day.1 ISS is primarily a laboratory with its resident astronauts carrying out experiments in a wide variety of fields including, biology, physics, astronomy, physiology etc. 2 However, the astronauts and ISS are also an experiment in themselves. Prior to the launch of ISS the longest continuous stay in orbit by a U.S. crew was 84 days on Skylab, ISS is continuously manned with astronauts completing missions which are a minimum of 6 months in duration.3-4 The health and safety of the crew aboard ISS is of primary importance. The ISS is a closed system which must be constantly monitored for signs of contamination which can result from off-gassing of vapors from items within ISS (plastics, tape etc.) as well as microbial (bacteria and fungi) contamination which can be inadvertently introduced into the ISS environment by crew and supplies. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has set spacecraft maximum allowable concentrations (SMACs) for many contaminants, for 1 hour (emergency), 180 days, and 1000 days.5-7 Air, water, and surface samples are routinely tested for contamination, if there are significant increases above base levels for selected compounds the ISS crew can change air filters, clean surfaces, and treat the water in order to prevent illness.

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  3. Johnston, R. S.; Dietlein, L. (Eds) 1977 Biomedical results of Skylab, NASA SP377. NASA Scientific and Technical Information Office, Washington.
  4. Proceedings of the Skylab Life Sciences Symposium, Vol. 1, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, August 1974, JSC-09275,or NASA Technical Memorandum TM X-58154, November 1974.
  5. Guidelines for developing spacecraft maximum allowable concentrations for space station contaminants 1996 National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
  6. Garcia, H.; Limero, T.; James, J. 1992 Setting spacecraft maximum allowable concentrations for 1 hour or 24 hour contingency exposures to airborne chemicals. 22nd International Conference on Environmental Systems, Technical Paper 921410, Seattle, WA, 1992
  7. Spacecraft maximum allowable concentrations for selected airborne contaminants, Vol. 1–5, 1994, National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
  8. Limero, T.; Reese, E.; Cheng, P.; Trowbridge, J. Int. J. Ion. Mobil. Spec. 2011, 14, 81-91.
  9. Limero, T.; Reese, E.; Wallace, W. T.; Cheng, P.; Trowbridge, J. Int. J. Ion. Mobil. Spec. 2012, 15, 189-198.