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Fact sheet number: FS-2001-12-206-MSFC
Release date: 12/01

Avian Development Facility (ADF)

Missions: UF-1, STS-108

Experiment Location on ISS: Space Shuttle mid-deck

Principal Investigator: John Vellinger of Space Hardware Optimization Technology (SHOT) Inc. in Greenville, Ind.; Dr. J. David Dickman of Central Institute for the Deaf, University of Washington in St. Louis, MO; and Dr. Stephen Doty of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, NY

Project Manager: Dr. Randall Berthold of NASA Ames Research Center Life Sciences Division in Moffett Field, CA.



An egg holder of the Avian Development Facility holds a Japanese quail egg for a safe journey to and from space. The holders are designed to isolate the eggs from vibration, thus minimizing any launch and re-entry effects to developing embryos.
An egg holder of the Avian Development Facility holds a Japanese quail egg for a safe journey to and from space. The holders are designed to isolate the eggs from vibration, thus minimizing any launch and re-entry effects to developing embryos. (NASA/Ames)


Developing the technology that enables human life to be sustained in space and understanding the role of gravity in living systems are two major components of the life science vision of NASA. Avian (bird) embryo development research will expand the field of knowledge in both areas. Avian experimental model systems offer opportunities to observe changes in cardiovascular, vestibular, musculoskeletal, immunological and neurological development in the low gravity (microgravity) of Earth orbit space flight.

In the experiment planned for UF-1/STS-108 flight, the Avian Development Facility (ADF) - developed by Space Hardware Optimization Technology (SHOT) Inc. of Greenville, Ind. - will isolate the effects of low gravity on the development of Japanese quail embryos, which also is referred to as embryogenisis, by initiating and preserving embryo development during the space flight. The ADF is designed to help scientists gain further insights into whether an organism can go through all phases of embryogenesis in microgravity.

Experiments to be conducted in the ADF include studies on the development of the vestibular system, which controls balance, movement reflexes, spatial orientation and motion sickness and the development of the skeletal system, which includes bone and cartilage. The ADF provides for relatively precise control of experimental parameters, such as temperature, humidity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, centrifugation and refrigeration. Futhermore, the ADF attempts to minimize the effects of launch and re-entry in order to isolate and preserve the effects of the experimental variables of the space environment.

The ADF provides advanced telerobotics and teleoperations to minimize involvement and time by the crew and to significantly improve the science findings from microgravity life-science investigations. The next step in the avian research process is development of the capability to support quail from hatch to adult. SHOT is performing the research and development to provide NASA with an Avian Hatchling Habitat (AHH) for the International Space Station. A habitat would allow observations, measurements, and manipulations of newborn hatchlings and adult quail in low gravity.

Experiment Operations

The Avian Development Facility (ADF) was designed for Japanese quail eggs and houses 36 egg holders. The egg holders have been designed to isolate the eggs from vibration, thus minimizing any launch and re-entry effects to the developing embryos. Egg holders are mounted on two rotating centrifuges that can provide both microgravity and variable gravity environments (up to 1-g - normal Earth gravity).

The avian facility offers pre-programmable control of the interior environmental temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide (CO2), and oxygen (O2) concentration thus providing optimal conditions for embryo development. Additionally, it has an automated system that can be programmed to add a chemical fixative to the egg ,which stops the development process and preserves the embryo, at specific times during incubation. The ADF also rotates eggs - similar to the turning in a natural environment. Temperature can be maintained within +/- .05 degree Celsius of the set point between the range of 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) and 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). The relative humidity can be maintained within +/- 7.5% of the set point between the range 50 and 70 percent. The Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide levels are actively controlled to the set points defined by the researcher and the range of centrifugal force provided by the carousels is 0 to 1-g (in 0.1-g increments).

The ADF fits into a middeck locker on the Orbiter, making it easily accessible prior to launch and after landing.

Background/Flight History

As an eighth-grade student in Lafayette, Ind., John Vellinger, co-founder of Space Hardware Optimization Technology, Inc. (SHOT), had an idea for a science project -- to send chicken eggs into space and study the effects of microgravity on embryo development. Vellinger entered his project in a science competition called the Shuttle Student Involvement Program (SSIP), sponsored by NASA and the National Science Teachers Association.

He received the district award three consecutive years and became a national winner in the program in 1983. In 1985, after his freshman year at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., NASA paired him with Mark Deuser, who was working as an engineer at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Through a grant from KFC, Deuser and Vellinger set out to develop a flight-ready egg incubator. Deuser later became a co-founder of SHOT.

SHOT Inc. has since designed, built, verified and integrated hardware for three sub-orbital rocket flights, six Space Shuttle missions and is currently developing payloads for the International Space Station.

Experiments studying the effects of space flight on embryo development in Japanese quail -- conducted in the 1990s on Space Shuttle-Mir missions Mir-18, Mir 19, and NASA-2 -- revealed that embryonic development and hatching is possible during space flight. The investigation consisted of nine integrated experiments designed to study the effects of microgravity on the embryonic development of vertebrate animals - quail -- and the how the abnormalities occur. Abnormalities -- detected during various phases of embryo development -- and the decreased number of hatched eggs in comparison to a control group on Earth, provided information on the effects of space flight on embryogenesis.


There are many reasons to study life sciences in microgravity, from the obvious -- such as ensuring astronaut health -- to the less obvious -- such as improving health care on Earth.

The human body is designed to operate in Earth's gravity field (1-g). Our skeletal structure, muscles, tendons and ligaments developed to support our weight against this constant pull. Other systems regulate the even distribution of body fluids, organize sensory input to provide us with balance and coordination, and provide a rhythm to the operations of the body. When the human body is removed from this gravitational environment, during spaceflight, many complex changes take place.

Scientists need to understand these changes so countermeasures can be developed for long-term space flight. These countermeasures will help make long stays on a space station or a trip to another planet feasible. In addition, microgravity may offer unparalleled opportunities for research on particular body systems and the production of advanced medical products. Continuation of avian research in space is essential in order to answer a number of these critical life science questions.

More Information

Additional information about the Avian Development Facility, life sciences and microgravity can be obtained at:

Additional information about Expedition Four experiments is available at:


Steve Roy
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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