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MALTATODAY 18 December 2022

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12 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 18 DECEMBER 2022 PAUL COCKS SPACEX is an American space- craft corporation owned by the world's second-richest man, Elon Musk, and has recorded a lot of firsts: it developed the first privately developed liquid-pro- pellant rocket to reach orbit around Earth; the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; the first vertical take-off and vertical propul- sive landing for an orbital rock- et booster; first reuse of such booster; and the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station. SpaceX has flown and landed the Falcon 9 series of rockets over one hundred times. In March 2023, SpaceX's Po- laris Dawn crew will be the first all-private mission to per- form the first-ever commercial spacewalk outside the Crew Dragon spacecraft. And that mission crew will be undergoing research on space anaemia conducted by the University of Malta, under the leadership of Professor Joseph Borg. Borg told MaltaToday that the UOM's project – called 'Pleiades' – will allow research- ers to study and understand better how red blood cells get destroyed under space flight and stress conditions, includ- ing microgravity and high solar radiation. Astronauts typically return from space with anaemia – a blood disorder in which the blood has a reduced ability to carry oxygen due to a low red blood cell number and reduc- tion in the amount of hemoglo- bin. "We know that a million red blood cells more per second get destroyed in space when compared to Earth, which re- sults in roughly 54% more cells destroyed in people that travel to space than those that remain on earth," he said. "Knowing how these red blood cells are destroyed, why, and how it can be mitigated will allow us to de- vise better therapies aimed at treating blood disorders such as thalassaemia and sickle cell disease. This is by discovering those hard-to-find master con- trollers and genes that control cell development and their ex- pansion." Borg said that blood samples from the astronauts will be taken befire, during and at the completion of their mission. "Having their blood samples, shipped to the University of Malta, and having them ana- lysed using our equipment will allow us to be part of an excit- ing and international study." The astronaut's blood will be assessed for haemoglobin pro- filing and various fractions that researchers usually encoun- ter. Historically haemoglobin profiling has been an essen- tial technique used on many thousands of Maltese people especially as part of neonatal screening for abnormal hae- moglobins. "No one has ever looked at haemoglobin, its expression and their fractions in astro- nauts' blood before, and so this project will open a new niche for life sciences in microgravity building on the success of Pro- ject Maleth," Borg said. Under Project Maleth, Borg and his team have already sent two science research projects aboard SpaceX NASA Com- mercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions to the Interna- tional Space Station (ISS), and are now getting ready to send a third. "The third mission will be the final one under the Maleth pro- gramme, and wrap it up. It is a follow-up of I and II, however with different and collaborat- ing countries from the Middle East," Borg said. "We are looking at same cli- mate and overall health condi- tions (Type 2 Diabetic compli- cations) but of course, different ethnic background and differ- ent genetics. It would be ex- tremely useful to compare the genomics between different populations under the experi- ments of space research." With regards to the upcoming project, Borg said that anaemia in astronauts is not permanent but takes up to six or seven months to resolve upon the as- tronauts' return back to earth. Resolving anaemia, or better Maltese research in space Next SpaceX mission will include Maltese experiments on anaemia

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