CU-Boulder To Send Experiments Ranging From Ladybugs To Water Quality On NASA Shuttle

July 13, 1999

The University of Colorado at Boulder-based BioServe Space Technologies Center will be flying experiments ranging from ladybugs and butterflies to biomedicine and water purification on a space shuttle slated for launch July 20.

Scheduled for launch from Cape Kennedy, Fla., the five-day flight of NASA’s space shuttle Columbia may be the last of BioServe’s 13 microgravity space shuttle missions prior to the center’s first International Space Station mission in July 2000. Founded by NASA in 1987, BioServe is a joint venture of CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering department, Kansas State University and industry sponsors.

BioServe will fly three bioprocessing payloads on Columbia, which provide thermally controlled environments and automated processing of biological samples in space.

One payload will carry experiments for BioServe’s industrial sponsors and another involves a National Institutes of Health experiment, said David Klaus, BioServe’s mission manager for the space shuttle launch. A third payload involving K-12 student outreach is being flown for the first time under NASA’s new Space Technology And Research for Students, or STARS program, said Klaus.

"One of the most intriguing STARS experiments was developed by the all-girl Javiera High School in Santiago, Chile," said BioServe Associate Director Louis Stodieck, principal investigator on the STARS program. Since space station astronauts will grow plants for food, the Chilean students proposed a test involving the behavior of ladybugs and their primary prey, aphids, in low gravity.

The objective will be to document the movements of ladybugs, which hunt upward on wheat stalks, and aphids, which jump down to escape. High-powered cameras will download images and post them on the Web for use by other students at: eol5a.erim-int.com/CMAT/RE_ladybugs/FlightData/DataIndex.html.

Similar ground experiments will be conducted simultaneously at Baseline Middle School in Boulder as well as middle schools and high schools in Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Santiago.

Another STARS program experiment involves students observing the effects of cocoon development and wing formation in the painted lady butterfly, said Stodieck. Both outreach projects will include developing curriculum teaching aids on the Internet to stimulate math and science interest in K-12 students.

BioServe also will fly an experiment for Water Technologies Corp. of Minneapolis in hopes of developing a new generation of water purification resins that can be used to produce improved agents for use in air and water purifiers. Another industry experiment being flown for Allied Signal Aerospace of Torrance, Calif., was designed to improve methods for the biological remediation of wastewater.

"Both of these experiments are based on the premise that bacteria growth is more difficult to control in zero gravity," said Klaus.

"The tests have implications ranging from new wastewater treatments and remediation of biologically hazardous sites to providing safer water for backpackers," said Klaus. "The key is successfully manipulating the bacteria in the space testbed under very trying conditions."

BioServe also will fly a new device for NIH, NASA Ames and Yale University to determine the effects of spaceflight on the development of the nervous and muscular systems in fruit fly larvae.

Another experiment sponsored by LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals of Bozeman, Mont., will test how reduced gravity and varying red blood cell densities affect the adhesion of white blood cells to infection sites. The results could help improve techniques used to evaluate the effectiveness of pharmaceutical compounds on diseases like stress-induced immune system deficiencies and E. coli poisoning, said Klaus.

Additionally, BioServe will fly a protein crystal experiment sponsored by BioSpace International of College Park, Md., in hopes of improving drug design based on higher resolutions of three-dimensional molecular structures.

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