Hartford Experiment To Fly On Dragon, First Commercial Flight To International Space Station
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
February 15, 2012
HARTFORD —— Liam Flannery, a 13-year-old in a white lab coat, spent his morning looking at rat cells.
Even better? Rat cells destined for space.
In July, a student experiment from Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School flew 5.3 million miles aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the final journey ofNASA'sshuttle program. Annie Fisher tested the effect of microgravity on tomato growth — apparently there is none — through the national Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
Now the K-8 school is working with its magnet school neighbor, University High School of Science and Engineering, on a new experiment involving osteoporosis that is scheduled to fly on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, possibly this spring.
The latest historic flight has the students abuzz. "Mindblowing," said Nick Rapp, 13, one of Liam's classmates.
With the retirement of its space shuttles, NASA is relying on private spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station. Dragon is expected to be the first commercial flight to dock on the satellite, launching a new era for space travel.
"These kids are going to be part of history," said Jeff Goldstein, director of the nonprofit National Center for Earth and Space Science Education inWashington, D.C., which runs the student experiments initiative.
An unmanned Dragon will depart from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX, a California-based space transportation firm that has contracted with NASA, has pushed back its target launch date from March to late April to work on software issues.
This week, students began the groundwork for their experiment at the University of Hartford, which is allowing the use of its lab. Annie Fisher eighth-graders Liam, Nick, Roshawn Brown and Tristan DeRosiers; University High School seniors Samantha Cedeno and Bo-Edward Lawrence; and Rob Lipski, a University of Hartford senior majoring in biology, are part of the team.
"This is completely a student-driven project," said Annie Fisher magnet coach Rachael Manzer, one of seven educators in the U.S. who have been training for a commercial space flight within the next few years as part of Teachers in Space. "This is their idea."
Researchers have cited bone loss as a risk of extended spaceflight. The Hartford experiment will examine the effect of parathyroid hormone, which can be used to treat osteoporosis, in microgravity.
"A reason we can't go to Mars is astronauts will lose bone mass," said Liam, an East Hampton resident who expects to attend University High in the fall.
After a joint competition at the two Hartford magnet schools last fall, a panel of Hamilton Sundstrand scientists and engineers picked the top three experiment proposals, which were sent to Washington for review.
The H.A. Vance Foundation funded the $20,000 cost for the winning experiment to be included on the space mission. Lonza, a Swiss biotech firm, donated $1,700 worth of rat osteoblast cells for the project. Osteoblasts are bone-building cells, and a synthetic version of the parathyroid hormone will be used.
Eleven other school communities in the country, including Fitchburg, Mass., also have designed student experiments through the Washington program that will ride on the payload owned by NanoRacks, a private company that operates a research lab on the International Space Station.
Manzer believes the parathyroid hormone test will be unique to the station and said she hopes the results could become the foundation of further research.
At the University of Hartford, Liam and Nick examined the rat cells under a microscope for signs of mitosis Monday. They worked with Lipski, who is 22.
Liam is thinking of entering the biology field. Nick, of Newington, wants to be a photon physicist.
"I never did anything like this when I was their age," said Aime Levesque, an assistant professor of biology at the university and one of the team's mentors. "When I was in eighth grade, I thought I was going to be a musician."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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