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Updated: November 14, 2009 18:49 IST

Students send microbe experiment on Atlantis

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Space shuttle Atlantis nears the end of a nearly six hour journey to Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009. Photo: John Raoux
AP Space shuttle Atlantis nears the end of a nearly six hour journey to Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009. Photo: John Raoux

An experiment by college students that will study how microbes grow in microgravity is heading to orbit aboard space shuttle Atlantis.

Undergraduate and graduate students at Texas Southern University in Houston developed the experiment that will fly as part of the STS-129 mission. The mission is scheduled to launch at 2:28 p.m. EST on November 16 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

“I’m thrilled that giving students the chance to design and research an experiment to fly in space is one of the tools we have at NASA to engage them in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” NASA Deputy Administrator, Lori B. Garver said.

The students developed the Microbial-1 experiment to evaluate the morphological and molecular changes in E. coli and B. subtilis bacteria.

“The University Research Centre Project is designed to enhance the research infrastructure and capacity at minority institutions,” said Katrina Emery, NASA’s University Research Center project manager at the agency’s Dryden Flight Research Centre in Edwards, California. “By engaging in participatory learning opportunities like this experiment, students can see themselves as researchers, now and in the future,” she added.

This space shuttle flight experiment is a proof-of-concept model for the URC project to give students hands-on experience. The experiment provides the university students the opportunity to design, monitor and execute the study in laboratories, as well as near real-time on the space shuttle. Each component of the experiment is designed for easy reproduction in the classroom, providing a valuable experience to students.

The unique experimental data will be used to develop grade-appropriate microbiology modules for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

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