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Science waiting to hitch a shuttle ride

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A tardigrade, also known as a water bear, measures less than a millimeter (0.04 inch) in length but can withstand harsh environments and still thrive. The water bears are the stars of the show for the Planetary Society’s Shuttle LIFE experiment on the shuttle Endeavour.

The eight-legged water bears have had to go back to the lab, and the energy bars better have a longer shelf life. But the big-ticket science item for the shuttle Endeavour’s mission to the International Space Station, the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, is just fine where it’s at. We’ve heard a lot about the space spectrometer, which could crack the mysteries of antimatter and dark matter. but there are scores of smaller, quirkier experiments due to ride on Endeavour’s final trip, whenever it happens.

Shuttle LIFE: The nonprofit Planetary Society is putting six types of microbesinside sealed tubes that will fly on Endeavour’s middeck. The critters include eight-legged water bears, also known as tardigrades; Deinococcus radiodurans, one of the most radiation-resistant microbes known on Earth; Bacillus subtilis, a garden-variety strain of bacteria; Cupriavidus metallidurans, a type of bacteria that gobbles up heavy metals; the salt-loving microbe known as Haloarcula marismortui; and Pyrococcus furiosus, a critter that can withstand temperatures above water’s boiling point.

Sounds like the Planetary Society just recruited a League of Extraordinary Extremophiles.

The idea is to study how microbes that are adapted to different extreme environments on Earth do in the zero-G space environment. Planetary Society’s Bruce Betts says this experiment is a “wet run” for a similar experiment that will fly on Phobos-Grunt, a Russian-Chinese mission due for launch to the Martian moon Phobos within the next year.

“It’s like a dry run, but we actually get real science while we’re at it,” Betts told me.

After NASA postponed last week’s scheduled launch of Endeavour, the Shuttle LIFE experiment was pulled off the shuttle along with other experiments on the middeck. Fresh tubes will go to the launch pad a couple of days before liftoff. “The good news for our experiment is that it’s not much of an impact,” Betts said. If these microbes can survive super-radiation and blazing temperatures, they should be able to handle a week or two hanging around the lab…

– Alan Boyle

Via Science waiting to hitch a shuttle ride

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Written by Nokgiir

May 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm

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