The launch of a University of Colorado at Boulder-built biomedical experiment aboard the space shuttle Discovery May 31 follows on the heels of an agreement between NASA and CU-Boulder to fly university payloads on every shuttle mission to the International Space Station until the shuttle program is retired in 2010.
The agreement between NASA and BioServe Space Technologies, headquartered in CU-Boulder's aerospace engineering department, is part of a new NASA initiative to use the space station as a national laboratory for research not directly applicable to NASA's stated mission. Signed this month, the agreement means BioServe payloads are manifested on all 10 shuttle flights slated to the International Space Station between now and 2010, with the possibility of several being added, said Stefanie Countryman, BioServe business manager and coordinator of education outreach.
BioServe is a nonprofit, NASA-funded center founded in 1987 at CU-Boulder to develop new or improved products through space life science research in partnership with industry, academia and government. Since 1991 BioServe has flown payloads on 29 space shuttle microgravity space missions, including experiments that have resided on the International Space Station and Russia's Mir Space Station.
BioServe is providing the hardware, operation and support for a virulence experiment involving salmonella for the May 31 Discovery mission, said Countryman. The experiment was designed by researchers at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C., to probe the effects of spaceflight on bacteria.
Studies suggest space flight can result in the suppression of the immune system of both humans and animals, and previous studies have shown microgravity can alter growth rates, virulence, drug resistance and gene expression in microorganisms like salmonella, she said. The experiment, to be flown in specially designed space test tubes designed and built at BioServe, will be returned to Earth at the end of the mission for further study, Countryman said.
Results from such experiments could provide information on the threat of pathogens in the space environment, especially during long-term missions to explore the moon and Mars, said BioServe Director Louis Stodieck. Such experiments also could help researchers find new ways to prevent and control infectious disease on Earth.
The one scheduled NASA shuttle mission not slated to visit the space station -- the Servicing Mission 4 for the Hubble Space Telescope now slated for October 2008 -- will be carrying a $70 million instrument known as the Cosmic Origins spectrograph designed and built by CU-Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy in partnership with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
While most of the upcoming BioServe payloads flying to the space station are industry supported, BioServe also collaborates with nonprofit organizations to fly educational payloads, said Countryman. "We are always seeking educational sponsors for educational payloads, including the K-12 science community," she said.
For more information on BioServe, visit the program's Web site at www.colorado.edu/engineering/BioServe/index.html. For information about BioServe's K-12 educational opportunities, contact Countryman at 303-735-5308 or Countryman@colorado.edu.