Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

SPACEHAB venture unites biotech partners
Posted: Jan. 17, 2000

A SPACEHAB module aboard shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission in October 1998. Photo: NASA
SPACEHAB has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center of St. Louis, Missouri, the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology (IMA) in Singapore, and Monsanto Company of St. Louis to conduct joint life sciences research in space.

To initiate this collaborative research project, the partners will develop a protein crystal growth experiment to fly aboard the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Space Shuttle mission STS-107, set for launching in January 2001.

SPACEHAB, the world's leading provider of commercial processing services for manned and unmanned payloads, has flown its modules on 13 Space Shuttle missions. This joint research venture is SPACEHAB's first undertaking with Singapore, the Danforth Center, and Monsanto. The project represents Singapore's first foray into space research. The Danforth Center and Monsanto are also new to space research.

In addition to collaborating on their own space-based experimentation, signatories to the MOU will provide a S*T*A*R*S(TM) (Space Technology And Research Students) Program for students in Singapore and Missouri that will culminate in the flight of an experiment on NASA's Space Shuttle.

SPACEHAB's S*T*A*R*S(TM) Program is a commercial education initiative designed to engage students in science and technology and enable them to share in the excitement of space research and exploration. The Program also promotes cross-cultural cooperation.

From Mir
SPACEHAB module rides aboard shuttle Atlantis as seen from the Russian space station Mir. Photo: NASA

U.S. Senator Christopher S. Bond (R-MO) witnessed the MOU signing in Singapore and praised SPACEHAB for bringing the partners together.

"Today's agreement offers the opportunity for our two countries to take an important joint step toward increasing scientific knowledge,'' said Sen. Bond. ``And it gets young people involved.'' (Sen. Bond chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA and National Science Foundation funding.)

Mr. Teo Ming Kian, Chairman of Singapore's National Science and Technology Board (NSTB), who was also present at the signing, remarked that ``This is a significant milestone for IMA to be selected as a strategic partner for this exciting space-based life science research. It is testimony to the value-add that Singapore's knowledge infrastructure, supported by NSTB, offers to both the industry and the world scientific community at large.''

"The opportunity for our Singapore students to participate in this space program would add to the excitement of research for them. Doing it jointly with students in the U.S. will help in cross-culture educational learning and exchanges and build better understanding amongst them,'' said Mr. Teo. "This will be an exciting international partnership, and Singapore is honored to be able to participate."

"This joint effort will aid Singapore's efforts to develop a biotechnology industry and allow the Danforth Center and Monsanto to move into space research," SPACEHAB Chairman Dr. Shelley Harrison said at the signing. "Just as importantly, it will allow students in both countries to experience firsthand the excitement of space research."

Astronaut Tom Akers works inside a SPACEHAB module during the STS-79 mission in 1996. Photo: NASA

Researchers will use a High-Density Protein Crystal Growth Facility, provided by the Center for Macromolecular Crystallography at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, for their first collaborative space experiment. On STS-107, the protein crystal facility will be installed on the middeck in conjunction with the inaugural flight of SPACEHAB's new Research Double Module (RDM).

Protein crystal growth has been the single most important commercial use of microgravity to date. Researchers can determine a protein's structure by x-ray diffraction from crystals of that protein; such knowledge is useful in designing new drugs, for example. In the microgravity environment of space, researchers can grow larger and purer protein crystals that yield better diffraction results.

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