World's-first live 4K stream from astronauts revealed how tech is turning space into a second home

Despite the 10-second lag, two astronauts had a lot to say about tech for space at CES 2023.
Sade Agard
ISS astronauts Frank Rubio and Nicole Mann
ISS astronauts Frank Rubio and Nicole Mann

Sade Agard/Interesting Engineering 

Today (Jan. 06), the International Space Station (ISS), which is the only location where people can investigate the long-term effects of living without gravity, completed the first call ever made in 4K to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023.

In the first instance, the discussion was unsurprisingly focused on what it's like to be living in space now. After all, it's not every day you get to watch two astronauts in real-time casually floating a mic between each other to answer our pressing earthly questions.

Still, Interesting Engineering (IE) learned quickly that dwelling in the space station is hardly the whole picture. 

‘To get a shower would be nice'

The ISS, also referred to as the microgravity laboratory, is the only place where we can study the most challenging part of space exploration: human presence. 

For this reason, astronauts Nicole Mann and Frank Rubio are currently conducting a science mission. One that expands understanding and showcases cutting-edge technologies for upcoming robotic and human exploration missions, like NASA's Artemis missions to the Moon. 

"We've been living here [ISS] for over 20 years. And as you transition further and further away, we're going to need to be a lot more autonomous," explained Rubio.

Still, "to get a shower would be nice, but we have plenty of hot water.," said Mann.

Tech that optimizes the human experience in space

"And so, for instance, one of the coolest things we have is right next to me here. It's called Astrobee."

IE learned that Astrobees are automated, tiny self-propelled robots that the astronauts are working with now and hopefully in the future. "They can do things like take pictures for us or do storage tracking. The more we can offload to them, the more we can do research and other types of science," explained Rubio.

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"I think as far as our laboratory goes, we're finding that the future is going to be a combination of automated computer systems, potentially robots, and then humans on board as well," Nicole Mann said. 

Growing whole human organs in low-earth orbit

Another device is the biofabrication facility. "This is a really exciting thing for me as a doctor especially," said Rubio, who revealed the tech enables them to look at how they can replicate human tissues in space- in the microgravity environment. 

"We're finding that the cellular replication tends to be different and better in a lot of ways. And in the future, we can maybe fabricate entire organs up here. What a world-changing event that would be," he added. 

And that's not all, Frank recently helped to installed a rollout solar array during a spacewalk to boost electrical power for space operations and research. "We essentially got it out there, got it set up, and then just turned one last screw, and it employed itself," he revealed. 

He explained that the solar tech brings plenty of efficiencies. "We want to use similar, if not the same, technology to power outposts on the Moon. That was pretty darn special."

Habitats in 'cislunar' space

Regarding the Artemis mission, Mann said "it's just opening the door to exploration on those orbits. When we go to the Moon at that time, it will be for sustained human presence."

Additionally, the astronauts revealed that they're looking into the development of habitats in 'cislunar' space, i.e., the volume within the Moon's orbit. "This will be a launching point where we can travel up to the Moon to set up a larger habitat and potentially a launching place for future deep space exploration to Mars."

"I think we're gonna see a lot of changes and a lot of technological advancements in the next decade," Mann shared.

To wrap up, both astronauts pushed themselves to float upwards before disappearing in the distance. Naturally, the audience- IE included- was left in awe.