Landing of the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft
Science & Exploration

Exposed to space and back on Earth

05/07/2016 10319 views 117 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Principia

In the excitement of watching Tim Peake, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra land on Earth on 18 June after 186 days in space, all attention was focused on the astronauts and their bumpy ride. 

But also hitching a ride in the Soyuz capsule were 46 species of small organisms and more than 150 organic compounds. Their voyage was even more intense than the astronaut trio’s – these samples spent 18 months in space, bolted to the outside of the International Space Station.

This ‘Expose-R2’ is a miniature photochemistry laboratory that exposes samples to the harsh environment of space. Subjected to the full blast of the Sun’s energy as well as vacuum, radiation and temperature swings, they are helping researchers investigating how chemicals and microbiological life react to unprotected spaceflight – on a comet, for example. Previous Expose experiments have already shown that ‘water bears’ and a species of lichen can survive a trip into space.

Yuri and Sergei ready for spacewalk
Yuri and Sergei ready for spacewalk

Expose-R2 was returned inside the Station by Yuri Malenchenko and Sergei Volkov during a spacewalk on 3 February and stored ahead of return to Earth. The samples were held in sealed compartments and covered to block out all light.

With the samples having travelled around the world more than 8500 times, researchers are now eager to see how they have endured their trip.

The last leg of an epic voyage

Retrieving Expose-R2
Retrieving Expose-R2

Once the astronauts were safely outside, the trays were retrieved quickly to protect them from the heat of the Sun at the landing site, and a temperature-logger began monitoring them.

The samples arrived at ESA’s Moscow office on 19 June ahead of travelling to Munich, Germany. From there, they were carried to the DLR German Aerospace Center in Cologne, Germany, where they were removed from their containers. Most have now been distributed to the 30 researchers from 11 laboratories in the Netherlands, Italy, France and USA, who are eager to probe how they have reacted to living in space. 

Expose-R2 samples back on Earth
Expose-R2 samples back on Earth

A ground-based set of control samples will continue running for another two months, subjected to much the same conditions as their counterparts in space but without the cosmic radiation and weightlessness, which are unique to the Space Station.

The scientists will convene in November to discuss the initial results.

ESA has a long history of ‘exposure’ experiments. This third sortie for Expose is the last for now, but many new research proposals have been submitted for review to continue exploring the limits of life in our Solar System and how spaceflight can change organic chemicals.

Expose-R2 samples
Expose-R2 samples

Related Articles

Muscle research in space
Science & Exploration

New landing date for ESA astronaut Tim Peake

29/04/2016 71011 views 285 likes
Read
Bridget the rover
Science & Exploration

Tim Peake goes roving

27/04/2016 8008 views 74 likes
Read
Spacecraft berthed with Station
Science & Exploration

Busy spacecraft and experiment schedule on Space Station

08/04/2016 6891 views 86 likes
Read
Science & Exploration

Tim and Tim safely back in Space Station after spacewalk

15/01/2016 9772 views 134 likes
Read
Yuri and Sergei before spacewalk
Science & Exploration

Russian spacewalk marks end of ESA’s exposed space chemistry

03/02/2016 8316 views 119 likes
Read
A pretty good impression
Science & Exploration

Test your astronaut skills and help ESA

14/01/2016 28312 views 96 likes
Read
December spacewalk
Science & Exploration

Tim Peake set for spacewalk

05/01/2016 19909 views 165 likes
Read
Tim arrives at Space Station
Science & Exploration

ESA astronaut Tim Peake begins six-month stay on Space Stat…

15/12/2015 26151 views 128 likes
Read
Science & Exploration

Principia live

86562 views 313 likes
Read
Tim, Yuri and Tim
Science & Exploration

Can’t stop me now: Tim set for Principia launch

10/12/2015 7141 views 57 likes
Read
Tim arrives in Baikonur
Science & Exploration

Tim arrives in Baikonur on his last stop before space

30/11/2015 4827 views 38 likes
Read
Tim Peake
Agency

Tim Peake challenges UK students to 'make that call'

23/03/2015 3039 views 10 likes
Read
Agency

Send your computer code into space with Tim Peake

10/12/2014 1483 views 5 likes
Read
Science & Exploration

Tim Peake’s Principia mission logo

27/11/2014 12100 views 48 likes
Read
Tim Peake at EAC
Science & Exploration

Tim Peake to run London marathon from space

04/12/2015 10654 views 77 likes
Read

Related Links

Related Links