Montana State University

MSU, Russia collaborate on space experiment launched this week

June 1, 2005 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Thirty-nine experiments, including one to be analyzed at Montana State University, were launched May 31 from Kazakhstan. This Soyuz-U launcher carried a Foton-M2 capsule with the experiments into orbit. (European Space Agency photo).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Montana State University researchers and an MSU student from Huntley will start analyzing bacteria later this month from an experiment launched Tuesday from Kazakhstan, said MSU microbiologist Barry Pyle. The experiment is one of 39 traveling on an unmanned Soviet Foton-M2 spacecraft.

"We were quite fortunate to be selected for this experiment," Pyle said about the project that deals with the effects of long-term space flights and originated with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Biomedical Problems.

MSU and the NASA Ames Research Center in California were the only U.S. institutions invited to participate in the project, Pyle said. Other experiments on the flight are being conducted by Russian or European scientists. MSU was chosen to work on the project after submitting a short proposal for an experiment.

The experiment that involves MSU was developed by scientists at the Genetics Institute in Moscow, Pyle said. The collaboration between MSU and Russia will look at the effects of space flight, including radiation, on a strain of bacteria known as Streptomyces lividans.

"Radiation causes some genetic changes in bacteria, so they are indicators of what might happen in long-term space flight with bacteria and higher organisms," Pyle said.

The experiments are expected to land in Russia after a 14-day flight, Pyle said. Upon recovery, they will be sent to Moscow where scientists will take the samples they need and send some of the bacterial colonies to MSU.

The colonies should arrive in Bozeman by the end of June, Pyle said. Russian scientists will use one genetic technique to analyze the samples, and MSU will use another. The two techniques will complement each other, thereby strengthening the findings of the experiment, Pyle said. Also involved in MSU's portion of the project are Susan Broadaway, lab manager in the microbiology department, and Vince Martinson, an MSU senior from Huntley. He is majoring in biotechnology.

"I have taken research classes, but nothing like this," Martinson said. He will perform molecular tests on the bacterial samples that flew in space.

The Foton-M2 Mission is the second in a series of Russian missions where spacecraft fly without a crew, Pyle said. It's an example of space flight research in the future, he added, where every experiment is autonomous and can be operated from the ground.

Other experiments on the current mission will explain how microgravity affects astronauts during long-term space missions. Scientists from NASA Ames will use geckos, newts and snails to examine cell growth and tissue changes during space flights.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or