Nottingham experts take part in world's first commercial space flight

10 May 2012 13:28:24.930

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A team of space flight veterans from The University of Nottingham have helped an American high school student launch his very own experiment in space. It will be despatched on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, the world’s first commercial vehicle to visit the International Space Station (ISS).

Maryland high school student Paul Warren approached Dr Nate Szewczyk and his team in the Derby based School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health because of their successful track record in carrying out experiments in space. Dr Szewczyk has spent many years studying the effect of space flight on Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). With four space flights under his belt these microscopic worms are helping us understand how the human body might react to long term space flight.

Paul’s experiment is one of 15 selected by theAmerican Student Spaceflight Experiments Programme  (SSEP) to fly on the first commercial spacecraft, SpaceX Dragon. Paul is attempting to understand the effect of microgravity and radiation on a population of C. elegans. Blast off is now targetted for Saturday 19 May 2012 and the experiment will be triggered by astronauts once it is onboard the ISS.

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Freya Shephard, a research technician in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to be involved in one of the only science experiments going to the space station on the inaugural mission of the Dragon. We have provided worms, assisted in logistical planning of getting the flight samples ready and given support in designing post-flight experiments. It’s been a great experience see a high school student so excited and motivated by science.”

Paul, who attends the Henry E. Lackey High School in Charles County, will conduct identical experiments on earth and in space to compare the differences in C. elegans grown in both conditions. Importantly, Paul will test if one particular gene is key to the adaptations observed in past spaceflights.

The competition is run by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and aims to inspire the next generation of America’s scientists and engineers. Jeff Goldstein, the center Director and Director of the SSEP expressed the importance of science and how the commercial space flights are a new turning point in history.

The experiment is due to return to earth on Soyuz 29 scheduled for the end of June. To keep track of developments in commercial space transportation follow the NASA updates.

Image courtesy of NASA.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has 40,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news

Story credits

More information is available from Freya Shepherd, at The University of Nottingham,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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