When Space X launched the Dragon Spacecraft on Friday, April 18, it was carrying nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to support more than 150 science investigations planned for International Space Station (ISS) Expeditions 39 and 40. Among these materials are some that weigh hardly anything at all—microbes—of which one type was collected right here at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
These microbes are part of Project MERCCURI, which is a citizen science project sponsored by the University of California at Davis, SciStarter, and the Science Cheerleaders that are examining the diversity of microbes on Earth and the ISS. The microbes that were just sent to the ISS have been crowdsourced from across the country, from Washington, DC to California to New York to Florida. They have been collected at selected sporting events and other public spaces, including television studios and museums. On Saturday, September 14, 2013 the Science Cheerleaders, current and former NBA and NFL cheerleaders who have, or are working on, their advanced degrees in science and engineering, were here at the National Air and Space Museum as part of the Women in Aerospace Family Day. They were engaging visitors in the project. While they were here they swabbed the Mercury Friendship 7 capsule for a potential sample.
To be clear, they swabbed the protective covering of Friendship 7, and that resulted in in the collection of the microbe Pantoea eucrina. This is part of the collection of good or neutral microbes that is on the way to the ISS where they will be studied for how well microbes from the built environment on Earth grow in microgravity. In turn, the astronauts will be sending microbes collected from the ISS back to Earth, where they will be studied to see how different—or similar—microbes from microgravity are. To find out more about this project go the web site spacemicrobes.org or follow it on Twitter #spacemicrobes.
Mychalene Giampaoli is an educator at the National Air and Space Museum.