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OSU and NASA to Send Microbes Into Space | Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Published 11/24/23 a 8:05 p.m.
B
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

OSU and NASA to Send Microbes Into Space | Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Corvallis, Oregon) – With minor shades of the Andromeda Strain novel and flick, NASA and Oregon State University will soon be partnering to send microbes into space.

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According to OSU (which also runs the Hatfield Marine Science Center on the Oregon coast), two faculty members will be heading up an unusual experiment to be sent to the International Space Station, testing microbial growth and how it fares in space.

Dorthe Wildenschild and Tala Navab-Daneshmand are OSU College of Engineering faculty members looking into how the lack of gravity affects the growth of microbes, funded by a $525,000 National Science Foundation grant. They will be utilizing what are called biofilms, essentially large clusters of microorganisms that stick to each other and other surfaces.

Tubes of the samples should be ready to go into space in about two years, and the work being done on them will get live-streamed from the ISS.

“The environmental engineering researchers are hoping the OSU samples can be launched to the space station via space shuttle in late summer 2025 – and are planning for some of the work performed on them by astronauts to be live-communicated as part of STEM outreach events on the Oregon State campus,” OSU said.

Photo of ISS over Oregon - Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

Wildenschild said that learning about how microorganisms live and grow in a non-gravity environment can tell us a lot about real world applications here on Earth. Removing pollutants from groundwater is one aspect that researchers are hoping to gain more insight into, along with how microbes manage to disrupt mechanical devices on Earth and above. They are also known to wreck medical implants in humans.


Photo OSU: microbes grown at OSU

How microbes move and feed in a low gravity environment will be much of the focus, as the porous surfaces that they live in on Earth – such as dirt – make a lot of difference in whether nutrients or water are available. A zero gravity environment will change that.

Scientists are also looking to make 3D scans of the experiments, which give viewers the feel of “flying through the object.”

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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