Thursday, September 27, 2007

Launch – 14 days and counting

Somewhere over the Atlantic

Imagine taking your entire molecular biology lab halfway across the world to put an experiment on the 15S Soyuz flight to the International Space Station (ISS). You must remember every pipette, every drop of media, every coverslip, flask, cell counter everything because there is no Fisher Scientific outlet at the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan Your experiment is executed in orbit above the earth and the cosmonaut operators have been trained by people outside your lab and you hope for the best.
We had a early start today and we have had about six hours sleep over the last 30 hours. The team was at the lab at 12:30 AM for final preparation of the immune cells. Our first stop is Amsterdam where we will culture the monocytes and let them recover from the trip. We have 10 suitcases of clothing, supplies and equipment going to Amsterdam with us.

Why Amsterdam? Since there is no science shuttle, I am flying my experiment with the European Space Agency (ESA). Kaiser Italia made the flight hardware and with the complicated import/export rules since 9/11, ESA and our lab were concerned that the hardware could get stranded in US Customs. So we are going to Amsterdam to prepare the hardware for the flight. On landing, we go to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) laboratories in Noordwijk,The Netherlands and start operations.