GeneBox on Board

It turns out that private spacecraft launch I blogged last week wasn’t exclusively a private entrepreneurial affair. NASA was along for the ride in Bigelow’s balloon, in the form of an experimental micro-lab the agency calls a GeneBox.

Bigelow

The space agency sent up a so-called GeneBox, a micro-lab, with Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis I last week, piggybaggying a ride on the commercial spaceflight test.

The Genebox is about the size of a shoebox and is attached to the internal structure of Bigelow’s 14-foot inflatable spacecraft, which the company launched from Russia as a demonstration of an affordable human space complex it hopes to launch by 2015. NASA’s GeneBox contains a miniature laboratory of sensors and optical systems that can detect proteins and specific genetic activity. In two weeks, the Bigelow ground control station in Las Vegas, Nev., will activate the GeneBox, and once its tests are complete, data from GeneBox will be relayed to the ground for analysis.

According to NASA, GeneBox will analyze how the near weightlessness of space affects genes in microscopic cells and other small life forms. "During this mission, we are verifying this new, small spacecraft’s systems and our procedures," John Hines, the GeneBox project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, said in a statement.

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