Tutorial on Microgravity Research
page 2: Specific Areas of Microgravity Research
Basic questions in life sciences
In microgravity environment, life scientists and biomedical researchers can observe the functional changes in cells, plants, animals and humans when the effect of gravity is removed. It becomes possible to study fundamental life processes down to the cellular level. This gives researchers a greater insight into that cellular machinery and its functioning.
Biotechnology is likely to play a more and more important role in our lives, as its affects health, agriculture, and environmental protection amongst other fields.
For example, radical changes in the structure and connections of the nerve cells occur during the early development of the nervous system. As those changes are regulated by mechanical and biochemical factors, it is thought that gravity may play an important role in stimulating the proper development of the nervous system on Earth. It has been observed that animals deprived of the opportunity to walk during their first weeks after birth never learn to walk properly. Studying how that development proceeds in animals under weightlessness will help to define the respective roles of genetic determination and environment experience.
Microgravity - a tool for medical research
Understanding the nature of the critical periods of neural development has important implications for children medicine. It could also help in the treatment of those persons suffering from neuromuscular diseases.
Access to microgravity will provide better opportunities for research, offer repeated testing procedures, and enormously improve the test facilities available for life sciences investigations. This will provide valuable information for medical research on the Earth in general and lead to improvements in the health and welfare of the six billion people, which live under the influence of gravity on the Earth's surface.
The utilization of microgravity to develop new and innovative materials, pharmaceuticals and other products is waiting to be explored. Access to microgravity environments currently is limited. Better access will help researchers accelerate the experimentation into these new products. Although the sounding rocket technology has existed for some time, it has not been accessed by the commercial sector to develop new products that can only be developed and manufactured in the microgravity environment due to costs. It is imprecise to approximate the potential of this industry and the broad-based economic benefits that would come with it.