Looking forward

Launch of SpaceX Dragon on a Falcon 9 rocket, 14 April 2015, Cape Canaveral, FL. Image credit: NASA

I’m looking forward to the day that my seeds are transported to the ISS on one of these babies! There’s still a long way to go before my project is even ready to apply for a flight position, but I’ve started working with support scientists to schedule all the tests that need to be done. It’s going to be a very busy summer around my lab!

Read more about today’s launch, known as the CRS-6, at NASA’s page about the mission.

An incredible opportunity

I’ve put off this post long enough, not because it’s a bad thing, but rather because it’s such a good thing I’ve had difficulty knowing how to write it. So I won’t, I’ll let these links do the talking:

TL;DR – One of my projects was selected for development as an International Space Station experiment. Ever since we finished our study on gravitropism in the starchless mutant, I’ve wanted to write a proposal for a Station experiment that would serve as the next chapter in that story. In that publication, we showed something new about how plants without the normal gravity sensing machinery respond to gravity. They do so more slowly, and without regard for the angle of stimulation. This raises the question of whether these plants are using the same gravity sensing system as normal plants, which is the question forming the core of our new project.

I struggled with myself about whether it even made sense to attempt such a project, reasoning that my teaching, advising, and service loads only permitted a limited amount of time to do research. And we don’t have grad students or postdocs, who do so much of the technical implementation on these kinds of projects, how could I get the work done? The more I grappled with those thoughts, the more I began to see them as self-fulfilling prophecy of a sort. If the science were good enough to receive funding, the labor, time, and logistical issues should work themselves out. At some point in late 2013, I decided that I would apply to the next NASA Research Announcement for space biology flight opportunities. I was on the hook to myself.

I started to outline the core experiments before the announcement of opportunity came out in February of 2014. As a set of objectives became clear, I started sifting through the pile of unpublished results in the lab and doing additional preliminary experiments to support my arguments. I wrote and wrote. I wrote early in the morning, in between classes, while proctoring exams (some of the most focused time, I’ve found), and late at night. Any scientist, any academic, any writer knows this schedule. Then I submitted it and waited.

And then, in February, I heard.

Now the work and fun begins. I’m assembling a team of students for the summer and preparing a list of tests we need to complete to be approved for a flight experiment. Here’s a great video NASA Ames Research Center produced that describes the process:

I can’t help but feel it’s truly an incredible (= unbelievable) opportunity. I’m going to try to chronicle our progress here, but I’m not sure I’ll have the time. :-P