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Space Station Turns 2

Space Station Turns Two
Science: Space Product Development

The International Space Station celebrated its second year of permanent habitation in 2002.

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The commercial development of the space frontier is one of the greatest opportunities facing the United States. It is the growth of business in space that will bring the benefits of space down to Earth and enrich the everyday lives of all Americans. NASA is encouraging businesses to seize this opportunity through its Space Product Development Program, to ensure the continued economic growth of the United States and to bring the opportunities for new advances, technological understanding, products and jobs to the public. During Year 2, the International Space Station undertook several investigations on behalf of commercial interests.

Liver Cell Growth

IMAGE: Liver cells
Liver cells like these were the subject of new research conducted aboard the International Space Station as part of Expedition Five.

During Expedition Five, Albert Li from StelSys LLC in Baltimore, Maryland, grew liver cells in the Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System, managed by Neal Pellis at NASA Johnson Space Center. One of the specialized functions of the human liver is to break down drugs or toxins into less harmful and more water-soluble substances that are more easily excreted from the body. This investigation tested the function of human liver cells grown on the station, comparing the results to the typical function of duplicate cells on Earth. Cells are transported to the station, where they are nurtured and grown. Once the cells are grown, they are frozen, and the frozen cells are transported back to Earth for study.

The study is the result of a licensing agreement between NASA and StelSys to investigate new technologies for use in development of commercial medical products and services. Sponsors of this experiment hope that this work will lead to earlier and more reliable drug-candidate screening for patients in need of liver and kidney treatments prior to transplant. It could also accelerate development of new life-saving drugs by pharmaceutical companies.

First Space-Grown Soybean Crop

IMAGE: Space-grown soy plant
Soybeans growing in the Advanced Astroculture plant growth chamber on the International Space Station undergo inspection on July 10, 2002.

Like farmers bringing in their crops, researchers on Earth are studying soybeans harvested from the first-ever crop grown from seed to seed on the International Space Station. Space Shuttle Atlantis brought the soybeans home when it returned from a station visit in October 2002 on the STS-112 mission. Researchers were happy with the results.

“The first soybean crop grown in space returned in excellent condition, and a total of 83 seeds were harvested from 42 seed pods,” said Dr. Weijia Zhou, director of the Wisconsin Space Center for Automation and Robotics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Since a plant’s habitat plays a key role in determining the physiological and biological characteristics of the plant, we believe that reduced gravity may affect plant chemistry.”

Microencapsulation Electrostatic Processing

IMAGE: Microballoons created during STS-95 in 1998
Microballoons containing anti-tumor drugs and small amounts of radio-contrast oil were created during MEPS operations on STS-95 in 1998.

The Microencapsulation Electrostatic Processing, or MEPS, experiment involved enclosing a drug in a tiny, liquid-filled microballoon microencapsulation, which has been shown to be a better way to deliver drugs to tumors and resistant infections. During Expedition Five, investigators encapsulated two different drugs in the same microcapsule. In addition, they encapsulated drugs and magnetic trigger particles together, a technique that would enable physicians to deliver a burst of drugs to a very specific area of the body by breaking open the microcapsules with a magnetic field.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 12/19/2002
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