npj Microgravity Community lifts off with NASA

npj Microgravity attended ISSRDC in San Diego last week, where we recorded around 20 interviews for our community site

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It started with a tweet.

We always knew that there was a huge opportunity for an online community of researchers with an interest in microgravity. The International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC) looked like the perfect venue to record some interviews to post regularly on the community. When Andrea Macaluso, Publisher of npj Microgravity, tweeted fellow Connecticut resident (and astronaut), Rick Mastracchio, inviting him to tell us about life on the space station - we were beyond delighted when he quickly agreed.

We were also extremely fortunate in our partner, NASA, who support npj Microgravity and provided every level of assistance we could hope for. Lori Meggs from NASA TV, an experienced interviewer and former TV anchor, conducted all of the interviews with two-time NASA videographer of the year, James Bilbrey. We provided the questions and she asked them – as well as her own follow ups.

This series of fortuitous events (and a lot of preparation from the npj Microgravity team) led to around 20 interviews covering the widest possible range of topics, which we will regularly post here on the npj Microgravity Community.

Julie Robinson, Chief Scientist for the International Space Station (ISS), shown above, gave a great overview of the National Laboratory in lower earth orbit, its purpose and the importance of the commercialisation of space research in order to make it sustainable and have the maximum benefit for humanity. Angel Otero, Chief of Space Operations at NASA HQ, explained the importance of open data in space flight research and Mike Skidmore told us how GeneLab is publishing all genomic data from the space station. Camille Alleyn told us about her journey from Trinidad and Tobago to rocket scientist at NASA – and her current work on programmes to engage more women and minority students in STEM. Tetsuya Sakashita explained the mission of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and their experiments in crystallisation, mice research and aquatic biology that take place aboard Kibo, the Japanese module on ISS - and many more.

Our highlight was undoubtedly speaking to astronaut Rick Mastracchio, shown at the top, who has flown on four missions including helping to build the space station. He told us about his diverse experiments in microgravity conditions aboard ISS, including on ants, combustion and capillary flow. His background as a space flight engineer informed his experience in space and he still works at NASA in ground control operations.

Rick also kindly agreed to be our Resident Astronaut for npj Microgravity Community and will soon be answering questions from you, our community, to raise awareness of the research conducted on ISS.

I'm at the end of my third week as Head of Communities & Engagement at Nature Research (having travelled down the road from open access publisher, BioMed Central) and I am inspired by the potential for our growing number of community sites to engage with researchers, experts in other fields and with the general public – who fund most of this research.

Stay tuned for the first interviews from ISSRDC, which we hope to post soon!

Ben Johnson

Magazine Editor, Nature Medicine, Springer Nature

I trained as a virologist, starting with an undergraduate degree in virology from the University of Warwick, UK. My PhD, in influenza virus genetics and immunoevasion, was from Public Health England and the University of Reading, UK, with Maria Zambon and Wendy Barclay. My research interests then moved to smallpox vaccines, viral ion channels and cell adhesion, while a postdoc at Imperial College London with Geoffrey Smith, FRS. I then joined open-access publisher BioMed Central in 2011 as an editor and then associate publisher and was Head of Communities & Engagement at Springer Nature from 2016, running the Nature Research Communities and other online engagement activities for researchers. I joined Nature Medicine in 2021, with responsibility for news and opinion content, and am based in the London office.