STS-135 Submission of Experiment Samples for Flight

All NEWLY updated information is in GREEN TEXT below.
Information still to be determined is in RED TEXT below.
Dates and times that are subject to change at NASA’s discretion are in PURPLE TEXT below.

Last update of this page: June 8, 12:00 pm EDT


The Launch Plans are based on the Currently Scheduled STS-135 Liftoff:
11:26 am EDT, Friday, July 8, 2011 (see NASA Launch Schedule)

This page provides student flight experiment teams comprehensive information on the submission of their Experiment Samples (fluids and solids) for integration into the MDA mini-lab used for the SSEP experiments. Recall that the mini-lab is part of the NanoRacks CREST DreamUp payload on STS-135. Flight integration will be conducted at the NASA Space Life Sciences Lab (SLS Lab) at Kennedy by ITA personnel.

All questions regarding submission of Experiment Samples should be sent directly to Dr. Harri Vanhala, SSEP National Program Manager, at or 202-297-9178.

1. Critical Timeline for Payload Integration and Due Date for Arrival of Your Experiment Samples (Fluids and Solids)

Important note: given the complexity of integrating payloads into the Space Shuttle, the complexity of a Shuttle launch, and NASA’s discretionary ability to make schedule changes, all student teams are asked to remain flexible.

Nomenclature: Near launch, milestones on the Critical Timeline are stated in terms of “Launch minus XX Days” or “Launch minus YY Hours”. Note that these times are stated relative to the PRECISE time of the scheduled launch.

The Launch of STS-135 is set for: July 8, 11:26 am EDT (See NASA’s Launch Schedule)

Therefore, for example, “Launch minus 1 Day” or “Launch minus 24 Hours” specifically means July 7, 11:26 am EDT

The Critical Timeline for flight sample submission is provided below. All SSEP student experiment teams are required to abide by the following milestones.

Critical Timeline

June 21: concentrations associated with the Experiment Samples can no longer be changed.

Note: Student teams with experiments selected for flight can continue to refine their experiments until June 21, but any modification to their list of samples is limited to varying the concentrations, more specifically, lowering of concentrations, and not addition of new sample materials. Also note that a sample can be removed entirely from the experiment’s list of samples, which corresponds to reducing the concentration to 0.

June 21: by this date, a Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form (see Section 3 below) signed by the community must be received by NCESSE.

Launch minus 10 Days (June 28, 11:26 am EDT): the CREST-DreamUp payload processing facility at Kennedy Space Center begins accepting shipments of experiment samples from student teams. No shipments will be accepted before this time.

Launch minus 7 Days (July 1, 11:26 am EDT): ITA personnel will arrive at the payload processing facility at Launch minus 7 days.

ITA requires that all Experiment Samples for the student flight experiments arrive at the payload processing facility BY Launch minus 7 days, unless they are time-sensitive samples, e.g., they contain living organisms. Time-sensitive samples can arrive as late as Launch minus 3 days WITH PRIOR APPROVAL—see next two milestones.

Launch minus 6 Days (July 2, 11:26 am EDT): time sensitive samples can arrive NO LATER than this time without prior approval by ITA.

Launch minus 3 Days (July 5, 11:26 am EDT): LATE LOADING DEADLINE—time sensitive samples can arrive as late as Launch minus 3 Days, BUT ONLY WITH WRITTEN PRIOR APPROVAL BY ITA. The request for late loading is submitted by a student team using the Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form (see Section 3 below.)

Launch minus 3 Days (July 5, 11:26 am EDT): ITA begins loading of all experiment samples into the MDA mini-lab, which is contained in the CREST DreamUp payload.

Launch minus 2 Days (July 6, 11:26 am EDT): ITA turns over the CREST DreamUp payload to NASA for Shuttle integration.


2. The Experiment Samples (Fluids and Solids) to be Sent

Precisely as Specified to NASA Toxicology: Each flight experiment team must provide the precise fluids and solids that were specified to NASA toxicology for their experiment. However, a team has the ability to reduce concentrations up to June 21. This also includes the possibility of removing a sample by reducing the concentration to zero. Given these modifications are allowable, yet such modifications must still be formally approved in advance of launch, the approval process is to be conducted through the use of the Flight Experiment Sample Submission Form (see Section 3 below.)

Important points:

• The samples you send must be those that are approved as part of the process of submitting a Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form, and the samples must be at the approved concentrations. Submitting samples other than those approved can lead to loss of your experiment slot on the Shuttle.

You must ship your samples already mixed at the correct concentrations. ITA will only transfer contents of your vials to the mini-lab’s experiment wells. ITA will not mix any samples. Shipping of unmixed samples will lead to loss of your experiment slot on the Shuttle.

Special Handling: ITA is providing only 2 choices for sample storage: storage at room temperature, and storage in a standard refrigerator at approximately 36 deg. F.

If you require other special handling, e.g., thermal control with hot or cold packs contained in your shipping box, these special handling requirements must be brought to the attention of ITA, which is done by specifying the requirements on the Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form.

In the case of one experiment for the Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test for STS-134, a sample was packaged with a warm pack but on arrival at ITA it was thought to be a cold pack that had expired and the sample was quickly put in the refrigerator. We then learned that this would have caused complete loss of the experiment if it were associated with the submission of the samples for flight.

The CREST DreamUp payload processing facility will have copies of all Flight Experiment Samples Submission Forms, which detail any special handling requirements. On arrival, each shipment will be assessed as to whether there are special handling needs that need to be implemented.

Amount of Fluids and Solids to be Sent: For all experiment samples, provide approximately 3 times the sample size that will be loaded for the INITIAL loading of the Mini-lab. This will allow a buffer against any spillage during loading of the mini-lab.  

In addition, if the Shuttle launch is delayed, and the payload is pulled from the Shuttle because time-sensitive samples need to be reloaded (covered in Section 7), then ALL samples will need to be reloaded. Reloading requires the entire mini-lab to be disassembled causing all samples to be contaminated.

It is therefore important that each team provide enough samples for TWO reloads. And each in its own set of vials. In your shipment, include:

Vial Set I: for Initial Loading of the mini-lab

Vial Set II: for a First Reload

Vial Set III: for a Second Reload

Each set of vials should contain approximately 3 times the sample size needed to load the mini-lab.

This presumes, however, that time-sensitive sample can be preserved for a long period with storage in a refrigerator, which may not be the case. Thus rapid re-shipping of time-sensitive samples may be required (also addressed in Section 7.)

3. Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form and Required FedEx Return Airbill

Each student flight experiment team will be sent a Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form that details NCESSE’s current understanding of the experiment samples (the fluids and solids) to be submitted by the team, and any currently known special handling requirements. The Form provides space for the team to detail any modifications to this information. NCESSE developed this Form as a means of ensuring that both the student team and NCESSE are in full agreement on the flight experiment and its integration into the MDA mini-lab. In addition, this Form is the means of submitting a Late Loading request to ITA, which the team needs to justify.

The Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form will be sent to student teams by: June 8, 2011

The Form must be signed by the Teacher Facilitator, and emailed to Harri Vanhala by 12:00 noon EDT, June 21. (email

NCESSE will respond with a co-signed Form if no modifications were requested, or approval or denial of modifications requested for, e.g.: 1) sample concentrations, 2) special handling, and/or 3) late loading, by: June 24, 2011

Every student team will be required to include in their shipment of experiment samples to Kennedy Space Center, a completed FedEx airbill for the return of their samples—assuming the team is not sending a representative to Kennedy to pick up the samples. A completed airbill will require your FedEx account number or a credit card number written on the airbill.

4. Shipping Containers for Fluids and Solids

Only plastic vials are to be used. All student teams are to send their samples in plastic, transparent, 1.5 ml volume “Eppendorf” or microcentrifuge tubes. They are shown in the photograph at right, and how to purchase them is described below.

Once each vial is filled, place tape across the sealed cap, extending down the sides of the vial. Make sure to use tape that you can write on using a fine Sharpie for labeling purposes (Section 5 below).

Purchasing the Tubes: If you’d like, you can purchase the Eppendorf tubes at If you go to through the Amazon Banner on the SSEP You Can Help page, Amazon will give NCESSE a referral fee, taken out of the normal purchase price, which will be dedicated to development of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program on the International Space Station.  So all you need to do is type “Eppendorf tubes” in the search box at, and get to through the banner on the You Can Help page.

5. Required Labeling of Your Experiment Samples

Each student team is required to use three levels of labeling for their shipment:

1) On the outside of the shipping box, written very legibly and clearly, write “SSEP”, the name of the Teacher Facilitator, and the name of your community.

2) Label the tape on each sample vial using a fine Sharpie with the following information:

• What the sample is, using the exact wording found on your approved Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form (e.g., “5% salt in distilled water”)

• The name of the Teacher Facilitator

• Whether the vial is for: i) Initial Loading of the mini-lab, ii) the First Reload, or iii) the Second Reload

It is essential to mark all samples this way, so that the vials containing the samples can be identified and kept together.

3) Include a master packing list in the box. The packing list must be typed or printed via computer and NOT handwritten. The packing list must include the following information:

• The name of the Teacher Facilitator

• The name of your community

• The name of your experiment

• A listing of the vials in your box, with each vial identified using the exact wording found on your Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form (e.g., “5% salt in distilled water”)

Cell phone numbers for at least two individuals with full knowledge of the experiment and who can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by ITA if needed

• Any approved special handling requirements, e.g., “store vial #1 in the refrigerator on arrival,” or ship harvested samples back using the supplied cold packs.”

6. Shipping Requirements

Each student team must send all their experiment samples in a single box. There can be no separate shipments from 3rd parties, i.e., vendors.

Send the box containing your samples overnight by FedEx and make sure that the box is sent requiring a signature on receipt.

Send  the box of samples to:

MDA Payload Processing Lab
Florida Space Institute
Astronaut Memorial Foundation
Attn: Mr. Robert Crabbs
State Road 405, Building M6-306
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899

Phone: 321-452-9834 x202
Fax: 321-452-4842

7. Important FAQs and Recommendations

Can student teams hand-carry the samples to the CREST DreamUp payload processing facility?
To hand-carry samples, a representative of the student team would need to arrive by Launch minus 7 Days (or possibly as late as Launch minus 3 Days if approved for Late Loading). We expect that team members will most likely arrive closer to time of launch in order to see the launch. Hand-carrying samples to KSC is deemed a special handling requirement and must be on the approved Flight Experiment Samples Submission Form.

What is the plan for time sensitive samples requiring late loading if a launch delay is announced by NASA, e.g., what is the criteria for when the payload is pulled off the shuttle, and time-sensitive samples are extracted and new samples are integrated?
This is a very complex question that is dependent very much on the situation. Launch scrub turnarounds can come in many flavors; 24 hours, 48 hours, or 72 hour normal postponements. A decision to pull a payload out of the orbiter will be based on the payload manager’s assessment of the impact of the postponement of the bulk of his/her science experiments. Using history as a guide, normally, the payloads won’t be touched for a 24-hour scrub turnaround. On a typical 48-hour scrub turnaround, depending on the criticality of the science, a decision MAY be made to pull and reload the experiment package. On a 72-hour scrub turnaround, the odds are high that a decision will be made to pull the experiment and reload, but not guaranteed. It is a call made after the payload manager has assessed numerous inputs from the condition of the vehicle, the payloads, all the experiments and a myriad of safety considerations. The bottom line, however, is that each student team is asked to send enough experiment samples for up to 2 reloads. However, for critical time sensitive samples, this likely will require re-shipping.

Alert Your Experiment Samples Suppliers
If there is a reload due to a launch delay and you have critical time-sensitive samples that will need to be re-shipped, we advise that you alert your vendors to this possibility right away, so they are on stand-by.

Guarding Against Missing the Submission Deadline
If you miss the experiment sample submission deadline your team will forfeit their experiment slot on the Shuttle. To minimize the risk of this happening:

• If you do not have time-sensitive samples, then work against a schedule where you plan to overnight your samples to arrive just after the Launch minus 10 Days milestone, so if something goes wrong you still have until Launch minus 7 Days to get your shipment to the payload processing facility.

• If you have time-sensitive samples, which likely come from a 3rd party vendor, make sure to coordinate your efforts with the vendor so they deliver the samples to you in time so that you can then package and overnight on time to the payload processing facility.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.