Collagen and silk materials, in neat forms and as silica composites, were flown for 18 months on the International Space Station [Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE)-6] to assess the impact of space radiation on structure and function. As natural biomaterials, the impact of the space environment on films of these proteins was investigated to understand fundamental changes in structure and function related to the future utility in materials and medicine in space environments. About 15% of the film surfaces were etched by heavy ionizing particles such as atomic oxygen, the major component of the low-Earth orbit space environment. Unexpectedly, more than 80% of the silk and collagen materials were chemically crosslinked by space radiation. These findings are critical for designing next-generation biocompatible materials for contact with living systems in space environments, where the effects of heavy ionizing particles and other cosmic radiation need to be considered.
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