Release date: 07/01
The objective of NASA's biotechnology cell science research aboard the International Space Station is to provide a controlled environment for the cultivation of cells into healthy, three-dimensional tissues that retain the form and function of natural, living tissue.
As normal human cells grow and replicate, they form complex "colonies" of fibers, proteins and other structures that make up living tissue. Studying this mechanism outside the human body is difficult, however, because cells do not easily associate to form these cellular colonies outside living organisms. Most cultivated cells form flat, thin specimens that offer only limited insight into the way cells work together. Scientists were excited, therefore, to discover that cells grown in microgravity -- the low-gravity environment inside spacecraft orbiting the Earth -- much more closely resemble those found in our bodies here on Earth.
Cell cultures are maintained in stationary or rotating "bioreactors," which provide the environmental and metabolic support necessary for cell growth. Bioreactor cell growth in a microgravity environment permits cultivation of in vitro tissue cultures of sizes and quality not possible on Earth. Such a capability provides unprecedented opportunities for breakthrough research in the study of human diseases, including various types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and AIDS.
Cellular Biotechnology Program Overview
The Cellular Biotechnology Program at the Johnson Space Center uses NASA cell culture technology and the microgravity of space to advance ground-breaking research in biomedical science. The Program emphasizes research in:
Our investigator community extends throughout the country and includes research organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, headquartered in Bethesda, Md.
The Cellular Biotechnology Program develops ground-based and space bioreactors and support systems required for flight investigators' cell culture investigations aboard orbiting spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station. The Space Station Biotechnology Facility, scheduled to be carried to the Station in 2006, will be a complete research laboratory facility with static and rotating-wall bioreactors, analytical equipment for on-orbit analysis, systems for supplying gas mixtures to bioreactors and for low temperature stowage, computer systems and software to control and monitor facility and experiment hardware and for transmitting experiment data back to Earth.
The Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System (CBOSS) is designed as an interim platform for cell-based research aboard the Space Station prior to the launch of the permanent Biotechnology Facility. The system is comprised of sub-rack modules that provide semi-automated bioreactors, gas supply systems, computer control systems and passive and low-temperature stowage systems. The system will enable investigations on normal and cancerous mammalian cells, including ovarian and colon cancer cells, neural precursor and human renal cells.
CBOSS will be launched aboard STS-105 and transferred to the orbiting facility as part of Space Station Expedition Three. The system is comprised of the Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller (BSTC), the Biotechnology Refrigerator (BTR), the Gas Supply Module (GSM) and the Biotechnology Cell Science Stowage (BCSS).
The Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller can house 32 stationary tissue culture modules, operating at 56 watts of power during incubation to maintain the modules at a specified temperature in a controlled atmosphere. This unit, designated BSTC-303 is a modified version of the hardware that flew on the STS-86 (Mir NASA Increment 6) and STS-90 missions. Modifications include: the conversion from four small chambers to a single, large incubation chamber, the addition of a gas purge system, carbon dioxide monitoring, and a TCP/IP Ethernet connection to communicate with the EXPRESS Rack's Interface Computer.
The Biotechnology Refrigerator, designated BTR-304, is a thermo-electric, temperature-controlled unit which provides 0.53 cubic feet of on-orbit cold storage at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). Temperature-sensitive cell samples and stowage items are carried in the Biotechnology Refrigerator for launch and return aboard the Space Shuttle. The refrigerator operates on 160 watts and is 10.98 inches by 6.96 inches (27.9 cm by 17.7 cm). This unit is an upgraded version of the BTR-302, which successfully flew and operated aboard missions STS-86 (Mir NASA Increment 6), STS-89 (Mir NASA Increment 7) and STS-91. Modifications to the upgraded unit include an improved cooling system, increased structural strength, reduced power consumption and new data uplink and downlink capability for health and status reporting.
The Gas Supply Module supplies a continuous flow of metabolic gases to the Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller to support and maintain the chemical and physiological processes required to sustain cell cultures. The module is conceptually based on a gas supply module designed, flown, and operated aboard Mir from 1996 through 1998. The system is mechanical, requiring no electrical power. Two independent supply lines are available for multiple experiment support, and all four of the unit's gas cylinders can be connected to provide a common supply source. The Gas Supply Module can hold up to 634 quarts (600 liters) of gas when charged to 2,575 pounds psi (181 kilograms per centimeter).
Biotechnology Cell Science Stowage-1 and Biotechnology Cell Science Stowage-4 are stowage units designed to safely and efficiently package and transport cellular biotechnology equipment and materials required to conduct experiments during Flight 7A.1.
The crew is responsible for transferring all systems hardware and stowage from the Shuttle to the designated ISS EXPRESS Racks, as well as installation and activation of the hardware systems.
Once the Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System is operational, the health and status of the Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller and the Biotechnology Refrigerator will be downlinked to the CBOSS operations flight control team at the Johnson Space Center's Telescience Center. The crew will support the experiment by periodic recording of scientific data, adding fresh media to the tissue culture modules and processing samples for return to Earth.
Periodically, the crew will perform preventive maintenance on system components. At the termination of the CBOSS experiments, the crew will deactivate all experiment hardware except the Biotechnology Refrigerator, which will protect and maintain cell samples until their return to Earth.
Though NASA has been dedicated to cellular biotechnology since 1983, cell science research conducted in the environment of microgravity is relatively new. The first experiments flown aboard the Space Shuttle were in the mid-1990s (STS-70, STS-85). Long-duration cellular biotechnology experiments were conducted in the Biotechnology System Facility on the Russian Mir space station from 1996 through 1998.
Cellular Biotechnology research conducted by NASA, its science investigators, and commercial partners has potential benefits and applications: Increased understanding of basic cell biology, as well as the effects of gravity on terrestrial cell biology; Potential production of living, functional replacement tissue for research and medical applications; Identification of new technologies that will advance science on Earth; Determination of potential health remedies and countermeasures for future long term space flight.
More information on NASA biotechnology research and other Expedition Three experiments is available at: