NASA's space shuttle Atlantis will make its final flight May 14 carrying three University of Colorado at Boulder-built biomedical payload devices, including one to help scientists understand how and why slimy and troublesome clumps of microorganisms flourish in the low-gravity conditions of space.
The experiments on biofilms -- clusters of microorganisms that adhere to each other or to various surfaces -- are of high interest to space scientists because of their potential impacts on astronaut and spacecraft health, said CU-Boulder's Louis Stodieck, director of BioServe Space Technologies in the aerospace engineering sciences department. Their growth, for example, occurred in water purification and environmental controls systems on Russia's Mir Space Station and was of regular concern.
Led by Professor Cynthia Collins of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and managed by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif., the experiments will target the growth, physiology and cell-to-cell interactions in microbial biofilms. The team will examine how the formation of the three-dimensional structure of biofilms formed by microbes differs in spaceflight versus normal gravity.
Because astronauts show decreases in their immune systems during spaceflight, researchers would like to know more about how bacteria behave in space, including their apparent increase in virulence and resistance to antibiotics, said Stodieck. Such experiments have implications for astronauts on long-term space travel flight to places like the moon, Mars and beyond.
The experiments will be carried aboard Atlantis in sets of specially designed fluid-processing apparatuses known as GAPs designed and built by BioServe, said Stodieck. Atlantis astronauts will control the individual GAP experiments using hand cranks to trigger and then later terminate cell growth via fluid mixing. The samples will be returned to Earth at the end of the mission
|Contact: Louis Stodieck|
University of Colorado at Boulder