Researchers conducted an experiment to test the effects of space radiation on human nerve cells was successfully flown more than 31 kilometers high (about 99,000 feet) and safely returned to Earth.
The researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville Space Hardware Club are asking if central nervous system cells are exposed to an array of radiation, will they exhibit markers of nitrous oxide and oxidative stress which lead to CNS disease or dysfunction?" said Dr. Amy Bishop, an assistant professor of biological sciences, University of Alabama.
The experiment package was launched on a high-altitude balloon early on March 7 from the university's campus and was safely recovered more than 90 miles away on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
"This would presumably duplicate an EVA for an astronaut," Bishop said.
"The neurons in our experiment are not shielded while an astronaut's neurons are somewhat shielded, so the shorter time unshielded might equal a longer exposure time for the whole body," she added.
"We are excited to report the mission was a success! The payload made it back to Earth and was recovered intact. We have some surviving neurons!" said Dr. Lynx McClellan, a clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing, University of Alabama.
The flight also tested whether the Cell Drive, a portable cell incubator and "life support system" invented at UA Huntsville, could keep cells alive in environments ranging from surface conditions to the low-oxygen, sub-zero environment in the stratosphere.
According to McClellan, "The Cell Drive was successful in maintaining the cells before, during and after flight. The surviving neurons are growing in an incubator and will be studied."