After traveling more than 6.5 million miles at speeds faster than a bullet, a package sent into orbit on board Space Shuttle Endeavour by Shelton High School students came back to Connecticut on a FedEx truck.
“[We’re] very exciting now that we got back our sample!” said Shelton Senior Omar Sobh.
The experiment, consisting of only a small vial with 200 microliters of a bacteria broth, arrived in Shelton on June 3 just two days after Endeavour’s early morning landing June 1.
Astronauts activated the experiment shortly after Endeavour reached orbit by mixing dormant bacteria spores with a nutrient mix. The Shelton students grew a control set on Earth to compare how the same bacteria grows in gravity and reacts to the antibiotic ampicillin.
Watch Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly activate a similar experiment:
The goal? Helping NASA astronauts prevent some rather uncomfortable infections they seem prone to contracting after long-duration space flights.
“This research project could help explain the increased susceptibility of astronauts to infection (especially bacterial urinary tract infections) on returning to Earth,” Sobh said in an email.
Sobh says the group of five students are investigating whether ampicillin is more effective against bacteria grown in microgravity in orbit. If so, it will indicate that bacteria grown in space are weaker than their terrestrial counterparts and that the astronauts’ bodies are adapting to dealing with the weaker microbes.
The students are now awaiting electron microscope imagery of their bacteria samples from Yale University. Shelton’s PerkinElmer sponsored the student’s work and is providing support during the analysis. The students expect to issue a report on their findings in the next couple of weeks – just before Sobh begins his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania as a pre-med student focusing on neurobiology.