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Fact sheet number: FS-2003-04-46-MSFC
Release date:

Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System: Fluid Dynamics Investigation (CBOSS-FDI)

Mission: Expedition Seven

Payload Location: Destiny laboratory

Principal Investigator: Dr. Joshua Zimmerberg, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., and J. Millburn Jessup, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.


The near-weightless (microgravity) environment of orbital space flight affords unprecedented opportunities in biomedical research and biotechnology. Adherent mammalian cells cultured on Earth, under the persistent influence of unit gravity characteristic of terrestrial ecosystems, typically proliferate into a two-dimensional monolayer array. In contrast, previous experiments on the Space Shuttle and on the Russian Mir space station demonstrated that adherent mammalian cells, cultured in vitro in space, grow into three-dimensional tissue assemblies that are similar to their natural counterparts in some of their molecular, structural and functional characteristics.

Experiment Operations

The Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System (CBOSS) is a stationary bioreactor system developed by the Cellular Biotechnology Program for the cultivation of cells aboard the International Space Station.

The CBOSS payload complement consists of the following hardware elements:

Cell cultures are incubated in the Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller (BSTC), which contains an isothermal chamber with carbon dioxide concentration controller. The Gas Supply Module (GSM) provides pressurized gases to the incubator unit, while the Biotechnology Refrigerator (BTR) serves for cold storage of labile experiment components. The Biotechnology Science Stowage (BCSS) is comprised of caddies containing experiment supplies and cryodewers for the transport of cryopreserved cells for on-orbit incubation and the return of frozen biospecimen samples.

Typically CBOSS is used to provide a controlled environment for the cultivation of cells into healthy, functional three-dimensional tissues. A critical step in performing these experiments involves complete mixing of cells and fluids during various tissues culture procedures.

The CBOSS Fluid Dynamics Investigation comprises a series of experiments aimed at optimizing CBOSS operations while contributing to the characterization of the CBOSS stationary bioreactor vessel (the Tissue Culture Module or TCM) in terms of fluids mixing techniques on orbit, which are essential to conduct cellular research in that environment. In addition, some experiments may examine microgravity biotechnology processes with applications to future cell science research in space.

Flight History/Background

For more than a decade the goal of the NASA Cellular Biotechnology Program at Johnson Space Center has been to develop and use microgravity technology to support the scientific community's research in cell biology and tissue engineering.

The first cellular biotechnology experiments flew aboard the Space Shuttle in the mid-1990s on missions such as STS-70 and STS-85. Long-duration cellular biotechnology experiments were conducted in the Biotechnology System Facility on the Russian space station Mir from 1996 through 1998. Previous cellular biotechnology investigations included the longest duration continuous cell culture in space (Mir NASA 3) and mapping of the genetic signatures of cells in microgravity (STS-90 and STS-106). In addition, the program developed the NASA rotating bioreactor, which is employed for ground-based propagation of cells in a suspended state with minimal stress.

CBOSS experiments conducted on the Space Station during Expeditions Three, Four and Five involved human kidney cells, human colon cancer cells, rat adrenal gland tumor cells, ovarian cancer cells, mouse blood cancer cells, human immune system tissue and human liver cells. The experiments represented the work of principal investigators from various institutions and industry.

In the future, the Biotechnology Facility (BTF) is expected to maximize use of the Space Station microgravity environment by enhancing cellular biotechnology research capabilities and increasing scientific output. Because of its continuous operation, BTF research will generate a critical threshold of data tat the cell science community may use to advance research in human tissue engineering and gravitational biology, which could have a significant impact on science and medicine.


Bioreactor cell culture in microgravity permits in vitro cultivation of cells into tissue constructs of size and quality not possible on Earth. Such a capability provides unprecedented opportunities for research in human diseases, including various types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and AIDS.

This approach to tissue engineering and modeling has potential applications in areas such as tissue transplantation, drug testing, and the production of biopharmacological therapeutic agents. Experiments may yield insight into the fundamental effects of gravity on biological systems..

More Information

For more information on NASA biotechnology research and other Space Station investigations, please visit:

Steve Roy
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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