PharmaSat Mission Update
The PharmaSat nanosatellite has successfully completed an experiment that could help scientists better understand how effectively drugs work in space. PharmaSat continues to collect data that could help scientists learn more about how yeast adapts to changes in its environment.
NASA's PharmaSat nanosatellite launched May 19, 2009 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at Wallops Island, Va., aboard a four-stage Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket. Approximately 20 minutes after launch, PharmaSat separated from the rocket and entered low Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 285 miles. About an hour after launch, NASA spaceflight engineers made contact with PharmaSat. On May 21, ground controllers completed a spacecraft checkout and issued PharmaSat a command to initiate its biological experiment, which lasted approximately 96 hours, or until May 26. Since then, mission managers have learned the experiment was a success and have begun transmitting the experiment data back to project scientists and mission engineers.
"The experiment went extremely well and we’re beginning to notice some really interesting results," said Macarena Parra, PharmaSat's project scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "What we're seeing in the data indicates that everything worked perfectly and the yeast was healthy and growing."
The science results for this experiment are scheduled to be published by David Niesel, PharmaSat's co-investigator from the University of Texas Medical Branch Department of Pathology and Microbiology and Immunology in Galveston and the PharmaSat team in 2010. In the meantime, PharmaSat team members are using PharmaSat's autonomous micro-laboratory to learn more about how quickly yeast adapts in space.
"We are extending the experiment to collect additional data," said Niesel. "It is absolutely worth extending the data collection if we can, because an extended data set could provide some new insights into the long-term behavior of these microbes in the presence of antimicrobials while in the space environment."
After years of study in laboratories on Earth, scientists have found that yeast can adapt to new environments. PharmaSat scientists will investigate the effect microgravity has on the yeast's ability to adapt and whether the space environment causes the process to take longer.
Based on PharmaSat's orbit and how effectively the radio signals are able to transmit the data from the experiment back to the PharmaSat team, they expect to receive all the data before June 15. Once they have all the data, the ground control team will command PharmaSat to begin overwriting all the old data with new optical density data from a light sensor onboard the spacecraft. Scientists can determine the yeast's health by studying the light detected by the sensor. Scientists have determined that if the optical density increases without feeding or dosing the yeast with antifungal treatment, then the yeast has begun to grow again and has adapted to space.
"This research supports our understanding of how microbes react to being in space," explained Parra. "We believe that continuing this experiment could improve our understanding of how microbes may adapt and become resistant to the drugs that may be used to treat sick astronauts on future long-duration space missions."
The Exploration Technology Development Program in NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington funded the PharmaSat project.
For information about PharmaSat, visit:
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.