NASA live coverage: Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae)

[Global] Filled with more than 4,200 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo, a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft is set to return to Earth from the International Space Station Monday, June 3. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the craft’s release beginning at 11:45 a.m. EDT.

Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae) studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, an algae capable of producing a powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin. It could provide a readily available dietary supplement to promote astronaut health on long-duration space exploration missions. A community college student and alumna of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program proposed the research, and NCAS is engaging community colleges across the US to conduct ground studies for comparison to the on-orbit investigation.

Research overview

  • The scientific objective of the MicroAlgae investigation is to study the effect of microgravity on tiny freshwater green algae Haematococcus pluvialis. This algae is farmed on earth for the potent antioxidant, astaxanthin, it produces when stressed. The algae turns bright red when stressed, signaling the presence of the antioxidant and pigment that gives shrimp, salmon, fruits, and vegetables their bright color.
  • Because the algae orients itself to gravity, researchers believe exposure to microgravity could stress the algae into producing this antioxidant- which has been shown to support the immune system and protect against inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
  • This research could result in a simple way to produce a readily available dietary supplement. The supplement would keep astronauts’ bodies healthy for long-duration, deep space exploration missions.


Thanks to the extraordinary NASA Twins Study investigation (, researchers now have a better understanding of the effects of long-term space flight on the human body. As NASA prepares to extend its presence in space, the Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae) investigation looks to advance human health research to enable future deep space, long-duration missions.
This research focuses on a fresh water green microalga Haematococcus pluvialis. When exposed to stress conditions such as high salinity, lack of nitrogen, or high temperature and light, the alga produces astaxanthin, a bright red antioxidant carotenoid shown to be beneficial to human health. Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant color, and are antioxidants that protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
A fresh supply of astaxanthin on board could potentially be a preventative measure against:
  • Effects of radiation exposure
  • Eye damage caused by bodily fluid pressure
  • Damage to the overall cardiovascular system
  • Bone loss.

The research hypothesis is that H. pluvialis, a gravitropic algae, reacts to the microgravity environment by producing astaxanthin.

Operationally, the algae is launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in sealed containers and placed in the VEGGIE plant growth facility for approximately 20 days, for periodic observations and imagery. The algae turns a bright red color when astaxantin production begins. The approximate quantity of astaxanthin is measured by comparison to a paper-based color chart.

Space applications

The MicroAlgae investigation tests production of the antioxidant astaxanthin aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Its ready availability as a dietary supplement could contribute to prevention of the effects of radiation exposure, eye damage, cardiovascular system damage, and bone loss, helping protect astronaut health and well-being on long-term missions.

Earth applications

This algae is farmed on Earth, but wide scale production and extraction of the antioxidant have yet to be refined. The MicroAlgae investigation advances research into the effects of microgravity and other stressors on astaxanthin production. This could possibly affect its use as a dietary health supplement in low-resource areas, and other environments.


View original article at: NASA: Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae)

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