If you’re on the East Coast, you might be lucky enough to see a United States Air Force rocket sail through the air tonight, between 8:00 and 10:00 P.M. EDT, carrying a tiny satellite into space. Weighing in at a meager 10 pounds, the “nanosatellite,” called PharmSat, was developed by NASA to study how yeast responds to antifungal drugs while in orbit.
Past studies have shown that microorganisms can grow more virulent in space, and another nanosatellite mission, GeneSat, launched in 2006 to test how E. coli bacteria behave in space. The goal of such research is to better understand the biological effects of space. (GeneSat was an $8 million project, and its design is the basis for PharmSat.)
The new nanosatellite contains a sensor-studded laboratory that will detect the growth, density, and health of yeast cells receiving three different doses of the antifungal drug over the course of 96 hours. Scientists on the ground will initiate the experiment one hour after liftoff, and data will be sent back to Earth in near real time for up to six months, assuming that no technical glitches or failures occur.
Good luck, PharmSat!