Joseph McIntyre’s experiments on board the International Space Station

oseph McIntyre Ikerbasque Professor's experiments on board the International Space Station

Durign the week of May 22, European astronaut Thomas Pesquet will perform an initial checkout and data collection for the GRIP and GRASP experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS). These two experiments, proposed by Dr. Joseph McIntyre, Ikerbasque research Professor at Tecnalia Research & Innovation, have been developed in conjunction with colleagues from Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium) and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France).  The aim is to study how the human brain uses sensory information about the force of gravity to coordinate and control body movements.

Fundamental experiments such as these are needed to understand not only how astronauts adapt to the challenges of spaceflight, but, more importantly, how the human brain functions in the normal environment on Earth. It is for this reason that the European Space Agency has decided to implement these experiments, in line with their research priorities “Life in Space for Life in Earth”.

These initial activities for the GRIP and GRASP experiments on board the ISS have been a long time in the making, requiring years of analysis and preparation. Each experiment was first selected in a process of international competition and scientific peer review, and then subjected to years of technical analysis to create specialised equipment adapted to the rigours of space flight. The path to flight was further prolonged by the unfortunate explosion in 2014 of the Antares rocket carrying the main hardware for the experiment. Thanks to the concerted efforts at ESA, CNES and BELSPO, renewed hardware was finally delivered to the ISS in April 2017. Initial activities to be carried out in May will test the hardware and provide initial data, to be followed by a series of experiments carried out by astronauts over the next few years.

Scientific results of GRIP and GRASP experiments will contribute the on-going work of Tecnalia’s Health Division, where researchers strive to turn this knowledge about the human nervous system into technological solutions to the challenges faced by patients suffering from neurological disorders, such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease.