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48 earth microbes to be launched into space March16th

Paeniballicus eligii bacteria found on Mars Exploration Rover prior to launch in 2004.
Paeniballicus eligii bacteria found on Mars Exploration Rover prior to launch in 2004.

Today Show viewers may recall when co-hosts Willie Geist and Natalie Morales swabbed the surface of Al Roker’s weather wall, a camera and their teleprompter for samples of tiny invisible, bacteria, viruses and fungi that may live on their surfaces back in October. Those microbes, as well as others collected from historical monuments including the Liberty Bell and stadium seats from Niedermeyer Field, museums, and other terrestrial sites by “citizen scientists” have all become part of Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on the International Space Station), due to be launched Sunday March 16th.

“The whole goal of this project was to be a citizen science project and to engage the public as much as possible,” said David Coil, Ph.D. and co-investigator. “It was designed with public collection in mind. We collected from a few really cool venues including Sue the T. Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Today Show, the Liberty Bell, and several NFL/NBA stadiums. We have received an extremely enthusiastic response from people. There has been a lot of interest at these public venues in helping us collect samples which has been great.”

Actual experimentation will commence within a few days of docking and continue for 9 days in the microgravity environment, before the samples are returned to earth aboard the Dragon spacecraft, along with others collected by swabbing the surfaces of the orbiting laboratory.

“This will allow researchers on the ground at the University of California, Davis, to use the station swabs to see what kind of microbes are living aboard the laboratory,” added Coil.
“The very nature of the question is ‘what effect does microgravity have on these organisms?’ so the space station is pretty much the only option. The hope is that studies like this will be of use to future long-term manned space missions where people and their microbes will be sealed in together for a long time. Scientifically, it's important to know how various microbes behave in space, before sealing people and their microbes up for a long time and sending them off to Mars.”

Readers who want to keep up with the study in real time can follow the hashtag #spacemicrobes on social media.

Source: NASA's Ames Research Center

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