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Strange science aboard the International Space Station (pictures)

All sorts of experiments -- involving everything from mice to cabbage -- are planned for humanity's orbiting lab. Some may help us get to Mars and help cure disease on Earth at the same time.

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Eric Mack

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Space slaw on deck

The International Space Station isn't just humanity's orbiting outpost in space, it's also one of the United States' official National Laboratories and a key research station for our species.

Here are eight of the most interesting bits of science happening in space in the coming months, starting with the space station's miniature greenhouse known as Veggie. Astronauts have already sampled lettuce grown in the greenhouse and shown off some rather nice orbital flowers as well. The next crop on deck will give the crew a key ingredient on their way to one day whipping up some space slaw. Cabbage is set to be grown on the ISS soon.

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Project Meteor

Meteors in the vicinity of Earth have been making headlines lately after one blew out windows in a Russian town a few years back. For the first time, the ISS will be rigged with equipment to make the first observations of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere from space as part of what's being called "Project Meteor."

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Space fire!

Experiments with fire aboard the ISS have already shown us the weird way flames behave in microgravity. A new experiment called Saffire-1 will allow scientists to take a closer look at fire in space on a larger scale and how it spreads in the absence of gravity.

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Saffire breaks down fire in space

The Saffire Experiment Module is shown here with the top cover removed. Scientists will light a fire in this box on the space station and watch how it spreads in microgravity.

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Checking out space soil

NASA plans to send astronauts to an asteroid in the coming years and part of the preparation for that mission will take place soon aboard the ISS where an experiment called "Strata-1" will examine how regolith behaves in space. Regolith is the mixture of rock and soil found on the surface of the moon, comets, asteroids and other space bodies.

The model here shows fragments of colored glass in Strata-1's tubes alongside material that more closely resembles the actual regolith that might be found on an asteroid.

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Gecko Grippers

Geckos' ability to walk on walls and even ceilings has long fascinated engineers and Spider-Man fans. Now Gecko Grippers, inspired by the lizard's sticky feet, are set for testing on the ISS to see how much sticking power they have sans gravity.

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Made in space

The 3D printer aboard the ISS has been demonstrating that additive manufacturing is possible in orbit for more than a year now. The facility from Made in Space is now set for an upgrade. The hope is that 3D printing can be used to help build future facilities on asteroids or even other planets in the future.

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BEAM inflatable habitat

One of the largest-scale experiments set to deploy on the ISS is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable habitat that will attach to the station for testing to see how it holds up to the more extreme temperatures and radiation levels of space.

A similar concept was once part of a proposal to send a couple on a long trip around Mars.

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Staying strong in space

Scott Kelly, who returned to Earth last month after nearly a year aboard the ISS, set a record for the longest continuous time an American astronaut has spent in space.

A shipment of mice will spend time aboard the space station. That experiment will study how time in microgravity affects muscle mass and contributes to bone loss in preparation for planned long-term missions to an asteroid and Mars. The hope is that the research could produce new drugs not only for use in future space missions, but also to treat physical impairments on Earth, including muscular dystrophy, cancer, spinal cord injury and the aging process.

Proposals are in place for the space station to stay operational until 2024, which could allow for much more interesting science to be done, including perhaps, testing this idea for a cloaking device to hide the entire planet from alien invaders.

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