CU-Boulder Alumnus, Two Payloads Heading For Space Station Via Space Shuttle March 11

March 7, 2008

NASA's space shuttle Endeavour will be carrying a former University of Colorado at Boulder postdoctoral researcher, a campus-built biomedical payload and two CU educational experiments when it blasts off from Cape Kennedy, Fla., on Tuesday, March 11.

Takao Doi, who conducted postdoctoral work at CU-Boulder on microgravity fluids in 1987 and 1988 and was an aerospace engineering associate professor adjoint from 1991 to 1995, will be making his third flight during the 16-day Endeavor mission, which is headed to the International Space Station, or ISS. Doi, now an astronaut in the Japanese space agency, previously flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1997 and is one of 17 CU-Boulder alumni who have flown on NASA missions.

CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technologies center designed and developed the biomedical payload for four microbial resistance and virulence experiments that will be flying on Endeavour, said Bioserve Director Louis Stodieck. Bioserve is providing the hardware, integration, operation and support for the four microgravity experiments, which were designed by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and at Montana State University and Arizona State University.

The biomedical experiments will probe the effects of space flight on four model organisms, including strains of salmonella, pneumonia, yeast and a common lung bacteria, said Stodieck. Studies have suggested space flight can result in the suppression of the immune system of both humans and animals, and previous studies have shown the microgravity of spaceflight can alter growth rates, virulence, drug resistance and gene expression in such microorganisms, he said.

The experiments will be flown aboard the space shuttle in sets of specially designed space test tubes, which are fluid-processing apparatuses designed and built at BioServe, said Stodieck. Endeavor astronauts will control the individual experiments using hand cranks, first to trigger cell growth via fluid mixing and later to terminate it. The samples will be returned to Earth at the end of the Endeavour mission for further study by biomedical researchers, Stodieck said.

"Results from these experiments could provide important information on the threat of pathogens in the space environment, especially during long-term missions to explore the moon and Mars," said Stodieck. "Not only do these experiments have applications for keeping crew members safe by helping scientists better understand gene and protein changes in pathogens, they also could help biomedical researchers find new ways to prevent and control infectious disease on Earth."

Headquartered in CU-Boulder's aerospace engineering sciences department, BioServe also will be delivering two K-12 educational experiments to ISS on Endeavor as part of an educational program known as "CSI" developed by the NASA-sponsored CU center in 2006. The experiments, a seed-germination/plant development study and a silicate crystal garden, will provide learning opportunities for middle school and high school students around the world, said Stefanie Countryman, the BioServe business manager and coordinator of education outreach.

The crystal garden experiment, similar to one launched by BioServe in August 2007 on Endeavour, will be tapped to examine the growth of metallic salts in the low gravity of space. In addition to being used for research studies, the experiment will be used by BioServe's educational partner, Orion's Quest, a Web-based education program in Detroit that works closely with NASA and various schools on K-12 education efforts.

The second BioServe educational experiment involves sprouting and growing tomato seeds in orbit to illustrate how gravity affects germination and plant development, said Stodieck. The seed experiment also has implications for growing food during long-term space missions and for developing heartier varieties of tomatoes for Earth-bound gardeners.

Both educational experiments will be processed inside BioServe's Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, an automated suitcase-sized device developed at CU-Boulder that has been launched on more than a dozen NASA space shuttle missions. During the space shuttle docking process with ISS, the plant and crystal education experiments will be transferred from the shuttle to two BioServe CGBA units already aboard the space station, Stodieck said.

The 16-day Endeavour mission will focus on ISS construction, including installing a Japanese research module and delivering a two-armed Canadian robot module to the orbiting station.

For more information on BioServe, visit the program's Web site at: http://http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/BioServe/index.html. For information on Orion's Quest go to: www.orionsquest.org/._ For information about BioServe's K-12 educational opportunities through CSI, contact Countryman at 303-735-5308 or email her at: Stefanie.Countryman@colorado.edu. _

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