NASA's Cold Atom Laboratory underwent a major hardware upgrade aboard the International Space Station in January 2020. The mission team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California guided astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir through the installation of the new hardware via live video conference. By chilling atom clouds to just above absolute zero, or the coldest temperature matter can reach, Cold Atom Lab enables scientists to directly observe unique atomic behaviors, helping to answer questions about how our world works at the smallest scales. This new hardware will help expand Cold Atom Lab's capabilities.

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Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech-International Space Station


The Cold Atom Lab has lived aboard the International Space Station since 2018.

It chills atoms to almost absolute zero, the coldest temperature matter can reach, making it easier for scientists to study them.

It also enables scientists to study states and properties of matter that can only be created in the lab.

It's one of the most complex experiments to operate inside the station and in January 2020 it was time for an upgrade.

But how is that done in space when the team is back on Earth?

With the help of the astronauts on board.

Using a live video connection with the Cold Atom Lab team at NASA-JPL Astronaut Christina Koch led the upgrade activity, with help from crewmate Jessica Meir.

The challenging process was spread out over 8 days.

They removed the "heart" of the Cold Atom Lab and replaced it with the upgraded hardware.

The upgrade adds a new tool called an atom interferometer that is used to study gravity at a fundamental level.

It will help scientists study how the world works at the smallest scales and contribute to the development of cutting-edge technologies.

Koch: It took me over 300 days to finally get to work on Cold Atom Lab, but it was worth it.

Looking forward to next week.

Ground: Thank you so much! We're so happy you're helping us.

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