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NASA astronaut returns from ISS: UC San Diego grad Kate Rubins speaks on space experience

Posted at 11:03 AM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 14:03:12-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- From conducting heart cell experiments while in orbit, to helping NASA develop new space suits for the return to the moon, UC San Diego graduate Dr. Kate Rubins’ career as a micro-biologist and astronaut has really taken off.

Rubins recently returned from a six-month mission to the International Space Station and ABC 10News had a chance to talk to her about some of the cool things she's up to.

When asked what it has been like to return to her physical self, Rubins said, “We just go slow and steady, and we do a lot of strength work as we're reconditioning and getting all small muscles used to the planet again and walking upright instead of floating.”

Rubins, who earned a degree in molecular biology at UC San Diego and went on to achieve her doctorate at Stanford, has been back on Earth for a little over two months, after spending the previous 185 days in the micro-gravity of Earth’s orbit on the International Space Station.

“One of the experiments that I worked on that we're still analyzing the data from was a cardiomyocyte experiment. Those are the kinds of cells that make up your heart,” she said.

Rubins said the study in micro-gravity seeks to understand why the heart tends to enlarge in space, while also increasing the overall understanding of this condition as it occurs on the planet below.

“One of the reasons that we do research on these is that a lot of these have similarities to diseases back on earth. Things like blood flow and the optic disc edema. We learn things in space that can helped diseased populations on earth.

Optic disc edema is a condition involving the swelling of the eye.

While her latest findings are being analyzed, Rubins is now working with NASA on developing a new space suit for the long term return the moon.

“We're now going to be doing geology and science on the lunar surface and we're going to be doing things like bending down and working with instruments. So, that's a very different way of operating in the suit and we're really looking forward to seeing these upgraded suits go through the development process,” she told ABC 10News.

It is a broad spectrum of knowledge and insight applied by NASA astronauts, but as Rubins shares, there's still room for a simple sense of wonder and attachment.

“I loved going over and looking out the window at Coronado Island and seeing San Diego. I always waved. I feel like it's home.”

ABC 10News: “That's awesome. Of course, the caveat being when we don't have a marine layer.”

Rubins laughs: “Yes! You can see it coming in off the coast and then you can see inland. So, it's pretty cool actually to see that.”

Rubins said the latest data she gathered on heart cells in space is currently being studied by other scientists and the results of those findings will eventually be published.

San Diego is lucky to get a few “waves” from space. Astronauts Jessica Meir and Megan McArthur -- who's presently on board the ISS -- also studied at UC San Diego and Scripps.