On Dec. 11 NASA will launch into space GeneSat-1, a fully automated microbiology lab, to study the effects of gravity on bacteria:
GeneSat-1 is a 10-pound satellite that will carry bacteria inside a miniature laboratory to study how the microbes may respond in spaceflight. It is a secondary payload on an Air Force four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket delivering the Air Force TacSat 2 satellite to orbit.
“The Small Satellite Office at NASA’s Ames Research Center teamed up with industry and local universities to develop the fully automated, miniature GeneSat spaceflight system that provides life support for small living things,” said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. GeneSat-1 was designed and built at Ames, and the mission will be managed from the center.
“During this mission, we are exposing bacteria to the space environment to see how they are affected,” said John Hines, GeneSat-1 project manager at NASA Ames. “It is the first of many small satellites that will give scientists the opportunity to inexpensively investigate fundamental biological questions such as the weakening of the immune systems and the effects of drug therapies during spaceflight.”
GeneSat-1’s onboard micro-laboratory includes sensors and optical systems that can detect proteins that are the products of specific genetic activity. The GeneSat-1 ground control station at NASA Ames will receive data radioed from the micro-laboratory after it has completed its observations and tests of the bacteria inside.
The biological test will last only 96 hours, but the GeneSat-1 team will evaluate the stability of the orbiting payload’s systems for four months to a year. Air pressure, temperature and humidity are controlled aboard GeneSat-1. Light emitting diodes illuminate analytical sensors that help scientists detect genetic activity by measuring proteins that glow.
The knowledge gained from GeneSat-1 will help scientists understand how spaceflight affects the human body; specifically, the intestinal bacteria that help human beings digest food. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate provided funding for the payload’s initial development.