Astronauts on the International Space Station cannot clean the environment like people do on Earth. NASA can’t just send bottles of bleach. To keep the environment free of contamination, it must be tested constantly. The process took him six to eight weeks and required sending a fully cultured Petri dish back to Earth for analysis, but things changed in 2016 when NASA sent its own DNA sequencer. I was. After that, only the data…
Astronauts on the International Space Station cannot clean the environment like people do on Earth. NASA can’t just send bottles of bleach. To keep the environment free of contamination, it must be tested constantly. The process took him six to eight weeks and required sending a fully cultured Petri dish back to Earth for analysis, but things changed in 2016 when NASA sent its own DNA sequencer. I was. After that, only the data had to be sent back, greatly shortening the time to get the results. Now NASA is looking at edge computing as a way to reduce sample-to-response time again.
Sarah Wallace, a microbiologist at Johnson Space Center, says the entire process currently takes five to seven days, with two to three days spent actually transmitting the data. But with edge computing, that window can be shortened even further, down to 24 hours for her. This is important for her ISS astronauts, but absolutely critical for NASA’s future space exploration program.
“When you think about the ISS, there’s a time lag in our communication that doesn’t really exist,” says Wallace. “But as we think [Lunar] Gateways, physical locations on the Moon, which may or may not be. And obviously not on Mars. So our goal has always been, how can we get answers without our crew being these bioinformatics experts?”
This is important because DNA sequencing is a complex task. Each sample produces nearly half a terabyte of data. NASA worked with private sector partners to containerize the code and run it on the Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2). This is an experimental proof-of-concept system designed to test the viability of commercial off-the-shelf hardware in space. Provides edge computing and artificial intelligence capabilities to the ISS.
The main challenge is keeping the code up to date and working as expected. So the next step is to pursue AI and machine learning that continuously monitors your code to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to and delivering reliable results. However, the model should be kept very small as connectivity is not guaranteed. Various mission-critical applications need to share the limited bandwidth between the ISS and Earth, so we want our code to be as small as possible to reach the edge in a timely manner.
Another challenge is the process of transferring data from the Space Station Computer (SSC) that runs the DNA sequencing machine known as MinION (which Wallace describes as “the workhorse of the day”) to SBC-2.
“These computers aren’t powerful enough to do this…it’s really the computationally intensive part,” she said. “So we had to store the data on her SSC and move it to the ISS network for the Spaceborne Computer-2 to pick up. Just move these big files [was] It’s not as easy as using a server or something on the ground. ”
Understanding how to make it work required cooperation from various stakeholders. But Wallace says the process is much easier at NASA than elsewhere. She attributes it to the agency’s overall problem-solving culture. NASA is no stranger to pushing technology to its limits and pioneering new techniques and processes, she said.
“So there are challenges that we all pointed out, but I think NASA is more open to saying, ‘OK, we’ve got to find a way to fix it. It shaves a little bit of time off from the start by teaching you the old way to try, and then they say, ‘OK, I may not know the exact way to do it now. “I think that’s why we’re so successful. Instead of throwing obstacles first and letting them do a lot of ground testing that they know won’t work,” Wallace said. Instead, we started trying to forge a new path to reach the end result in the first place.”
Wallace said the overall idea here is to reduce risk as much as possible. Sending the DNA sequencers not only enabled the ISS astronauts to get results more quickly, but also eliminated the risk of having to culture large amounts of potential contaminants on the station. She said the risk would be further mitigated if they sent her MinION 2.0 devices this spring, which would be able to handle heavy computational loads themselves without having to be linked to an SSC. By not having to perform that data transfer, the time to results is even faster, potentially as low as 8 hours.
“We are also working to take part of the risk assessment a step further. Not just the list of what microbes are present, but also the risk assessment part of it, which we hope to include in the future.” Things like: water is good to drink, happy faces, sad faces, etc. Said, “As I said earlier, the next step for us is to agree/disagree with the situation. It’s about giving the crew autonomy so they don’t have to wait for , and all this builds on their path to autonomy, which is critically important in exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. am.”