Who doesn’t dream of visiting space? Few people throughout history have had the chance to experience zero gravity and to observe the world from thousands of miles away. Since 2010, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) has provided an opportunity for American and Canadian students to design and fly microgravity experiments in low earth orbit. As of 2015, SSEP has sponsored eight missions for elementary through university aged students, two onboard the Space Shuttle and six to the International Space Station (ISS).
The selection of the experiments to go in Mission 6 to the ISS started in 2014. A total of 6,860 students designed microgravity experiments, which resulted in 1,487 proposals. In the end only 18 experiments were selected to go in orbit, included by a group of students from Lafayette School in Nashville, Tennessee. Edvotek is proud that their experiment was made possible with BactoBeads™, one of our favorite products!
For their experiment, the team from Lafayette School used Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum), a fungi that have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat disease, including cancer. The students believed that Reishi mushroom had the ability to induce cell arrest and apoptosis in cancer cells. Moreover, they wanted to observe the effect that microgravity may have on the Reishi mushroom’s ability to weaken, damage, or destroy cells. Instead of using Leukemia cells, the team chose to use E. coli BactoBeads™ as an alternative model organism. This allowed them to simulate the uncontrolled growth of leukemia cells while taking advantage of these cells’ ability to grow in the ambient conditions aboard the ISS.
Before being packaged onto the SSEP Mission 6 each experiment had to be stored in a special device called a Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME). The FME is a simple mini-laboratory designed to carry small samples of fluids and solids, and allows for the samples to be mixed at the appropriate time in orbit. The students can then explore the effects of microgravity on the physical, chemical, or biological system contained in the mini-lab. The FME can hold up to three separate volumes of fluids and/or solids. Figure 2 shows an example FME which contains 3 separate volumes.
The Lafayette group prepared 5 different FME’s for their whole project. FME 1 was sent to ISS and the other 4 were kept on land to compare the activity of the fungi and cells at different gravity.
Mission 6 launched on October 28, 2014 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, Virginia. Unfortunately, all 18 experiments were lost due to a launch failure and the subsequent detonation of the rocket. Although this was a devastating setback, the student teams were not deterred. Thanks to a huge effort 17 out of 18 experiments were recreated and delivered to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they were then launched aboard SpaceX-5 on January 10, 2015. The experiments spent one month on the ISS being handled by a group of astronauts, then returned to earth on February 10, 2015.
Edvotek is proud to be part of this wonderful story and congratulate all the participating students and schools! It is amazing to see the results of the ambition, hard work, and love of science that made this project a success. We will continue to support the student science community in all of their experiments and academic efforts, including those out of this world!