Many people have been asking for more details about our payload. What exactly are you sending up? Well, here it is…
The astronauts will receive a cargo transfer bag (CTB) containing 6 vented fly boxes (VFBs) packed in Zotek foam. Each box will contain 15 fly food vials. Four of the boxes will have vials holding fly eggs only, from a 1 day egg lay previous to the payload handover. The other two boxes will have live adult flies in them that will lay eggs during their travel to outer space. One egg lay and one adult box will be kept synchronously on the ground at NASA Ames Research Center’s facilities as a ground control during the mission.
Inside of each VFB, the 15 fly food vials are home to 5 different lines of flies. Each line has a different genetic makeup or genotype. Two genotypes represent normal, healthy populations, with no defects. We call these “wildtype.” The other three genotypes each carry a different mutation known to affect heart function and contribute to disease. These “mutant” lines are helpful because many people that appear fit and healthy carry mutated genes and do not develop cardiac problems until the heart is under extreme stress.
If space travel is going to be taken to the next level, it is important to understand how it affects all hearts because people of all different genetics will be going to work in space, whether on the ISS, the moon, an asteroid or even Mars! Studies such as this also reveal how the heart changes under extreme stress and can potentially help us find a target to cure heart diseases and problems for people here on earth as well.
Before we can send this project to space, everything must receive a final check. Our project manager, Kevin Martin, works very hard to make sure everything is in order and running smoothly. All of out equipment was laid out and documented into the system so that it is ready to go for the day of the launch.
Kevin even test fitted the VFBs into the foam one last time. Tonight, we will begin preparing the flies for the VFBs. The next hands to touch them once they are loaded will be the astronauts aboard the space station, when they put them into temperature controlled incubators. I will tell you more about that in another post later, why temperature is important for fruit flies.
The genetics of these flies directly translates to human genetics. The same mutations that causes disease in our hearts does the same thing to theirs. Because we cannot dictate our own genetics, it is important to study what happens to the heart in space in a variety of different genetic backgrounds. This way we are able to learn about more types of people and help a greater variety or space pioneers in the future.