Mengtian; A Dream of the Skies in China’s Mega Space Station

Image by the author.

From Shakespeare to Galileo, it seems mankind just can’t keep its eyes or minds from wandering the stars. Earlier this week, we made yet another venture into space exploration marked by the launch of the Mengtian lab module of China’s new Tiangong space station. On Monday, October 31st, China successfully launched this final piece of Tiangong, which has been in orbit around the Earth since April 2021, signifying the completion of its construction.

In this week’s OYMS blog, we look at various applications of STEM in the new Mengtian module and Tiangong space station which represent some of the latest innovations in space exploration to date.

Source: Nature. Image credit: Adrian Mann/Stocktrek Images/Alamy

Team effort

As with any large-scale space project, the launch and implementation of Mengtian involved efforts from diverse entities within and outside of China. So far, nine international experiments have been selected to fly to the outpost as part of a collaborative project between China and the United Nations, brought about by researchers from Mexico, Japan, India and Russia.

0G seeds Along with the previous module Wentian (launched earlier this year in July), Mengtian is designed to host a variety of scientific experiments. As of right now, a three-person crew lives there and multiple cargo missions and astronauts have made visits to the outpost.

Source: Chine Nouvelle/SIPA/Shutterstock

Aboard the space station are more than 20 mini-laboratories equipped with technology such as centrifuges, multiple lasers, cold chambers, an optical atomic clock, and a high-temperature furnace. Experiments similar to those done on the International Space Station (ISS) will take place, such as investigations into the effects of long-term confinement in low Earth orbit on the health of astronauts, mechanisms for fire prevention on different materials, as well as the quantum properties of gases.

Studies on the effects of cosmic radiation on microorganisms and plants will be carried out using three facilities which are located outside of the station. According to some state media sources, the Mengtian was also loaded with around 12,000 seeds, such as those for oats, and alfalfa, as well as some fungal seeds. These seeds will spend six months in microgravity and cosmic radiation before returning to the planet in April to be planted. In connection to similar experimentation already underway, thale cress and rice seeds which were first grown in the lab module Wentian began to sprout under the observation of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Furthermore, since studies similar to those conducted before aboard the ISS can be carried out, the reproducibility of previous data can be noted, which has exciting implications for space research.

A brief comparison of the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong. Source: Nature

With more than 25 research projects already in progress, studies will also be looking at the effects of microgravity on molten materials, bone and muscle, and on the cells of plants. Experiments concerning protein crystallization will also be in action.

Let’s keep our heads in the clouds and eyes on the stars; there’s new, exciting research and exploration in space science taking place right now above the stratosphere.

About the Author April Sui is a third-year student in Medical Sciences at Western University in London, Ontario. Treasurer and Marketing Head of Hashtag Health Podcast (based at UWO), she is also working with the International Predental Student Alliance. Bookworm, origami fanatic and French tutor, you can find her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03462-5

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02018-3

https://www.space.com/china-completes-tiangong-space-station

https://www.wired.com/story/china-is-now-a-major-space-power-tiangong-space-station/

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