Space Center University Student Experiments Go to Space

HOUSTON, Dec. 10, 2018 – Students of Space Center Houston’s Space Center University designed an experiment for astronauts to perform on the International Space Station. Their experiment launched last week aboard the SpaceX resupply mission and Space Center Houston held a launch viewing where guests performed the experiment to learn about DNA.

The nonprofit science and space exploration learning center will share the results of the research as part of its Innovation Gateway community science initiative. Meant to inspire the next generation of scientists, the initiative highlights how science, technology, engineering and math learning is for everyone, according to Daniel Newmyer, the center’s vice president of education.

“Here at Space Center Houston, our guests can be part of the mission to explore space,” said Newmyer. “Our Pop-Up Science Labs will allow guests to study the results of this experiment and hopefully put them on the STEM pathway.”

“I never thought I would be working on an experiment that would go into space,” said 14-year-old Erin Douglas, one of 17 children from Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, North Carolina who traveled to Houston to prepare the experiment. Immaculata students were the first to attend the middle school version of Space Center U in 2017 and have returned for a second iteration in 2018.

The experiment will determine if a specific, targeted enzyme can successfully sever a circular DNA strand called a plasmid, which is normally found in a bacterium or protozoan, into a linear one in the weightlessness of spaceflight. This would allow genome editing or therapy to take place, potentially curing rare genetic diseases and possibly someday repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to space radiation.

This technology is proven effective in plants on Earth and could make a huge impact here as well as supporting human life in space, according to Jo Ann Hux, a senior research associate with Precision BioSciences, who traveled to Space Center Houston to help design the experiment.

“We can make [this technique] very specific,” said Hux. “[S]o that it doesn’t harm other cells as it’s fixing what it is intended to fix.”

Aboard ISS, astronauts will mix the powdered enzyme with DNA and allow the process to run its course before adding a detergent that will act as a “stop” solution. The three components are housed within six-inch plastic tubes specifically designed for microgravity experimentation.

The space station research opportunity is being made available by Dream Up working with NanoRacks, LLC, who makes this mission available through its Space Act Agreement with the U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station.

Leading the students through the experience was Karen Kingrea, STEM director at Immaculata Catholic School, and a member of the center’s Space Exploration Educator Crew. Kingrea recognizes the power of STEM education to make a difference in kids’ lives and embraces her role in shaping their future.

“One of these days I’ll see an astronaut in space who will look at the camera and say, ’Hi, Ms. Kingrea.’ That’s how I’ll know I’ve done my job.”

Space Center Houston offers a host of educational opportunities for anyone interested in science and space exploration, from interactive exhibits all the way to the flagship educational program, Space Center University and even the Space Exploration Educators Conference, an annual event that draws more than 500 educators from around the world.

“This is beyond what we do in the classroom,” said Kingrea. “This is the real thing.”

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The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit science and space exploration learning center with extensive educational programs. Space Center Houston is the cornerstone of its mission to inspire all generations through the wonders of space exploration. The center draws one million visitors annually, was named “Best Museum in Texas” by USA Today and generates a $73 million annual economic impact in the greater Houston area. Space Center Houston is a Smithsonian Affiliate, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center and a Certified Autism Center. More than 250,000 teachers and students from around the world visit the center annually to experience our educational space museum with more than 400 things to see and do. For more information, go to www.spacecenter.org.

SOURCE: Manned Space Flight Education Foundation

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