USRA Scientist Secures NASA Grant to Probe Profound Effects of Deep Space Environment on Biological Systems

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — NASA recently awarded Dr. Janani Iyer, a scientist at Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a three-year flight grant to investigate the effects of deep space on Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) spanning multiple generations. This comprehensive study will utilize fruit flies as a model organism to assess the impact of various stressors on the brain, heart and muscle of fruit flies, given their biological similarity to the human system.  

Unlike the relatively protected environment of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) environment, deep space (beyond Earth’s magnetosphere) subjects astronauts to significantly higher rates of ionizing radiation—approximately ten times greater. Understanding how chronic radiation interacts with others pace stressors is of paramount importance.

Replicating deep space radiation in Earth-based analog facilities or on the International Space Station is challenging since it cannot be accurately replicated. However, the upcoming Artemis II mission provides a unique opportunity to study biological responses associated with the deep space environment.

Dr. Iyer’s fruit fly study represents a groundbreaking effort to explore the interplay between increased dep-space radiation, microgravity, and other stressors on various organ systems. Additionally, by comparing the findings from this mission with data gathered during previous LEO -based missions, researchers hope to identify distinctive signatures specific to both LEO and deep space environments. This knowledge will contribute significantly to our understanding of how humans can adapt and thrive in deep space.

In the grand scheme of space exploration, this biological research is pivotal. It not only advances our understanding of our capabilities and knowledge but paves the way for humanity’s future among the stars.                                     

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Disclaimer from NASA

“While it is the program’s intention that this selected project will fly as a payload on the Orion Space Capsule, NASA is still in the process of making an official determination of what science experiments can be accommodated on the Artemis II mission for the Space Biology Program. In the event that this study cannot be flown on the Orion Spacecraft, it will instead be manifested to fly on the International Space Station.”                                                         

About USRA

Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at

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