This FAQ is specifically for the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS Flight Opportunity.
To launch this FAQ, we culled all questions from previous SSEP Flight Opportunity FAQs (for Space Shuttle flights STS-134 and STS-135) that were also relevant to the SSEP Mission 1 to the International Space Station (ISS.) This FAQ is updated as questions are received by the SSEP Team that relate to all aspects of flight experiment design for SSEP Mission 1 to ISS, e.g., questions on how to think about the experiment opportunity, the science that can be done in microgravity, the operation of the mini-laboratory to be used, constraints on experiment design such as the allowed fluids and solids that can be used in an experiment, and the milestones and due dates associated with the flight experiments. These are topics generally addressed on the Designing the Flight Experiment page, the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Mini-Laboratory Operation page, and the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Critical Timeline page.
Experiments in Microgravity
Q: Is there a list of experiments, with descriptions, that have been flown by student teams in microgravity?
Descriptions of experiments flown by student teams during previous SSEP flight opportunities can be found on the Selected Experiments on STS-134 and Selected Experiments on STS-135 pages. Some general ideas on the kinds of experiments that could be flown in the mini-laboratory used for this flight opportunity are described in the Microgravity Experiment Case Studies document, which is available in the Document Library.
Q: Where can we find information about the impact of re-entry on the samples?
We’re not quite sure we understand the question. As the Soyuz re-enters the atmosphere, the astronauts and everything else aboard the vehicle go from a “weightless” environment to an Earth gravity environment. The samples are fully contained in the mini-laboratory inside the vehicle. They experience the effects of gravity “turning back on” just like the astronauts.
Q: How much shaking will the mini-laboratory experience during launch and reentry? Is it similar to bad turbulence aboard an airplane?
Shaking at liftoff and during landing can be severe. Describing the effect of liftoff, astronauts have reported that it is very different from “bad” turbulence because unlike in an aircraft in turbulence, you are shaking and pulling a couple of g’s. The term “g” is used to describe the acceleration you can experience due to gravitational forces. If you are standing on the surface of the Earth, you are experiencing the standard 1g; if you are in freefall, you are experiencing 0g, while the typical acceleration aboard the Soyuz spacecraft during liftoff is 3g. The reentry environment is similar, though at its highest levels, the deceleration of the vehicle as it reenters the thicker atmosphere at high speed can reach 4-5g for a couple of minutes. For your experiment design, however, there is no need to be overly concerned about the effect of liftoff or reentry on your experiment. While the liftoff and landing environment is memorable for the astronauts, they are not severe enough to be a significant concern for equipment and experiments aboard the spacecraft. The liftoff will not affect mixing of samples in the mini-laboratory, since the experiment volumes are not combined until after the the payload is in the “quiet” environment of orbit, and during landing, it is not expected to have an effect on the experiment, either, since all experiment volumes have been combined and mixed in orbit already. For experiment design, the main concern about the landing is the fact that the gravity environment goes from the microgravity of orbit to the normal gravity of the Earth’s surface, which may or may not be an important consideration, depending on your experiment.
Samples (Fluids and Solids) that Can Be Used in the Experiment
Q: What kind of samples can we use in our experiment?
The mini-laboratory used for the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS flight opportunity will have three levels of containment, and this provides so much redundancy against an accident that virtually any fluids and solids can be used by a student team. The only samples that student teams must NOT use are the following fluids and solids:
• radioactive fluids or solids
• hydrofluoric acid
Also, all human samples, such as blood, will need to be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-1, and HTLV-2.
Q: Can we send food to space in our experiment?
The only samples not allowed to be used for this flight opportunity are the materials listed above, and so all foods that do not contain these materials are expected to pass the formal flight safety review without any problems.
Q: Can you tell us if we can use MRSA bacteria in our experiment? If not, what could we use instead?
The answer to this question is a bit complicated. The guidelines provided to the SSEP team by NanoRacks based on information given by NASA Toxicology say that only a small number of samples are not allowed for this flight opportunity; see the listing above, and the discussion in section 6.1 of the SSEP Mission 1 to the ISS: Mini-Laboratory Operation page, for more details. Based on these guidelines, bacteria such as MRSA would be allowed to be used in your experiment design. However, there are aspects of the experiment design that make the situation a bit more complicated. First, while the restricted sample description above is based on NASA Toxicology guidelines passed on to us by NanoRacks, all experiments must pass the final NASA Flight Safety Review after they have been selected for flight, and it is possible for the review to deny the use of a sample, if they consider it to be sufficiently hazardous. As long as we follow the guidelines above, the likelihood of denial is very, very small, but it is still possible. The second tricky point comes from the fact that the bacteria may not be easy to obtain in a way that makes it useful for an experiment. If you propose to use this hazardous bacteria, you need to make sure to explain in your proposal where you have obtained the sample, in what kind of facilities you can handle the sample safely, and what kind of special precautions you may need to take to ship the samples inside the FME to NanoRacks for incorporation into the SSEP payload. Whether you want to use MRSA in your experiment or go with a suitable substitute will depend on your decision of how important using that specific kind of bacteria is for your experiment compared with the tricky aspects of the experiment design explained above. If you think the use of MRSA is crucial for your experiment and you can answer all relevant questions of its safe handling, then you’ll likely want to move forward with your experiment design using it. If you think the risks are too high and you can use a suitable substitute, that might be the safer way to go. What you could use as a substitute depends on the specific question you want to address. If you want to study the growth of bacteria in general under different environmental conditions, or even the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, you could use many commonly available bacteria for this purpose; for example, many previous SSEP experiments have used E. Coli for bacteria studies. You may want to contact microbiologists in universities or research laboratories in your area to see if they might be able to help you making the final and act as science advisors in general (though remember that it is your experiment and so the final decision of how you design your experiment is yours). You also may want to check out bacteria experiments flown during previous SSEP flight opportunities; see the Selected Experiments on STS-134 and Selected Experiments on STS-135 for descriptions of previously flown SSEP experiments.
Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) Mini-laboratory Operation
Q: What is the temperature of the FME during the experiment?
The experiments in the SSEP payload will experience the ambient conditions of the ISS, with a temperature of 70-75°F (21-24°C)—a shirtsleeve environment. Student teams can request special thermal controls for their FME during transportation and when aboard the station. See the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Mini-Laboratory Operation page for more information about the thermal controls available for this flight opportunity.
Q: Can the experiment be videotaped while it is aboard the ISS?
The FME is opaque, which means that no photographs or video of the experiment can be taken during the flight.
Q: Is it necessary to mix the substances in space? Or can the substances be mixed on Earth, to ensure that they are mixed properly, and then compare the Earth results to the space results?
You do not have to mix the substances in space; it is perfectly fine to mix the materials when you load the FME. In this case, you would just try and see how the results may differ between your experiment that spent several weeks in microgravity and the control you kept on Earth, a perfectly valid approach to designing your experiment. If you plan to mix your samples on Earth, you likely will want to use a Type 1 FME for your experiment.
Q: Can student experiments on the ISS be cooled and heated?
Q: Is it possible to keep the FME kit warm until we instruct the astronauts to activate the experiment?
The Fluid Mixing Enclosures (FMEs) containing the student experiments can be refrigerated aboard the ISS, but unfortunately they cannot be heated. During transportation of the FMEs from NanoRacks to the launch of the spacecraft, and after landing of the Soyuz spacecraft back to NanoRacks, all FMEs may need to be refrigerated, but if they are not, they will experience whatever the ambient temperature conditions might be along the way. While aboard the International Space Station, the FMEs are expected to experience the ambient conditions of the crew cabin, with a temperature of 21-24°C (70-75°F), unless the teams request their FME to be refrigerated.
Q: Can anything be measured while the experiments are on the ISS (like heart rate etc…)?
There are no means of active data acquisition in orbit. You can make measurements of your experiment before you send the sealed Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME) for transportation to the ISS, and after it has been returned to you after the flight, but not between those two times.
Q: Is there a location where experiments can be placed outside of the ISS (like for exposure to cosmic radiation)?
No: the Fluid Mixing Enclosures (FMEs) will be inside the ISS crew cabin during their stay on the station, and so the payload will be exposed to the ambient radiation (and other) environment inside the station. Note, however, that the radiation levels aboard the ISS are higher than on the ground even inside the ISS, so it might not be necessary to consider placing the experiment outside the station, even if it were possible. It has been estimated that the typical daily radiation dose to the astronauts aboard the ISS is approximately equivalent to what they would receive on the surface of the Earth from natural sources (other than radon) in an entire year.
Q: Can a direction of light be specified for the experiment?
There is no onboard light source. Also bear in mind that the FME is opaque, so it would be difficult to direct the light to a specific part of the sample inside the FME, even if a light source were available.
Q: Will the experiments have access to an incubator aboard the ISS, and, if so, what is the temperature inside and how long can it be in use?
SSEP had hoped to have access to an incubator aboard the International Space Station during the flight, but unfortunately we found out recently that this is not possible, after all. This means that the only thermal control available for the FMEs aboard the Station is refrigeration at 2–8°C (36-46°F). Otherwise, the FME will experience the ambient conditions of the crew cabin, with a temperature of 21-24°C (70-75°F). See section 6.4 of the FME mini-laboratory description page for more details on the thermal controls available for this mission. The incubator situation was also featured in a SSEP Program News Blog Post on November 18.
Q: If our team places freeze-dried samples in one experiment volume of the FME and water to activate the samples in another, how can we make sure that the sample are not activated multiple times?
Since you’re placing the freeze-dried samples in one experiment volume of the FME and an activating solution in another (a glass ampoule), the freeze-dried samples will be activated only when the ampoule containing the activating solution is broken aboard the International Space Station. So, by saying in your proposal at what point during the time that the FME spends aboard the station you want the experiment to be initiated by breaking the ampoule containing the activating solution, you’ll define the time at which the experiment is activated, and on would not expect there to be any problems with the experiment activating multiple times.
Q: May we use an FME with only one of the short ampoules instead of one long one or two short ones?
You can use just one short ampoule filled with a sample and leave the other one empty without the end caps inside a Type 3 FME so that it will fill with the sample you’ll place in the main volume. The reason you’ll need to use the empty short ampoule (and not leave the space empty) is to make sure the filled ampoule doesn’t move around inside the FME during transportation and is in the right place for the astronaut to crack it (activate it) in orbit. NanoRacks has provided the following protocol for using just one filled short ampoule inside a Type 3 FME:
Use an empty ampoule without plugs in either end to hold the filled ampoule in position. Insert the filled ampoule first, then insert empty ampoule without the plugs next to hold the filled ampoule in position. This will ensure the filled ampoule is in the “activation” ampoule position.
To include this in your proposal, write for the short ampoule to be left empty something like: Ampoule left empty without end caps to let it fill with the sample contained in the main volume. This will make it clear for the proposal reviewers that you’ll want to use the extra volume inside the empty short ampoule for the sample contained inside the main experiment volume of the FME.
Q: Exactly how much of a sample can we put inside each experiment volume of the FME?
You can use the dimensions and volumes for different types of the FME provided in section 6.2 of the FME mini-laboratory description page to see or calculate approximately how much of each sample you can place inside the different experiment volumes of the FME. Note, however, that the exact amounts of the samples you can fit inside the glass ampoules will depend somewhat on exactly how you’ll fill the FME because of the basic nature of the hardware (for example, how much, if any, you’ll trim the end caps of the glass ampoules.) Therefore, you may want to make more exact measurements of the volumes inside the ampoules and the main FME using the sample FMEs (and even the actual FME designated as the flight hardware) that your SSEP Community Leader has received. Also, when the winning experiment team is filling their flight hardware FME for shipping to Houston, they likely will want to measure exactly how much of each sample they’ll place inside the FME so that they’ll have an accurate record (rather than an approximate value) of each sample used in the experiment aboard the ISS.
Q: Can astronauts extract a liquid out of the FME?
Unfortunately not. Once NanoRacks receives the flight-ready FME, they will heat seal two polyethylene bags around it to serve as a second and third level of containment, load the sealed FME in the Payload Box, and deliver the entire payload to NASA for integration into the Soyuz 30 launch vehicle. The FME will remain inside the bags until it returns to Earth, so there is no way for astronauts to manipulate the samples inside the bag while the experiment is in orbit. Otherwise the three levels of containment would be breached, and this flight safety aspect is one of the central elements of this flight opportunity. The astronauts can manipulate the sealed FME in other ways as long as the bags remain intact. For example, when the astronauts will bend the FMEs to crack the glass ampoules inside them, the whole, sealed FME is bent without the tube being removed from inside the bags.
Q: On what day will the tubes in the FME be broken while the payload is on the ISS?
That is up to the student team! During previous SSEP flight opportunities, the experiments were activated on a schedule set by the hardware operators, but for this flight, one of the key elements is that the student teams can ask for their experiments to be activated on almost any day during the stay of the SSEP payload aboard the International Space Station. Later, the requested activation dates need to be matched with the astronauts’ work schedule, but that schedule will not be available until the winning experiments have been selected, so for the proposal, the students can request any activation time after the transfer of the payload to the ISS. There is a section of the proposal guide devoted to the FME activation (and other manipulation) timeline that the student team can complete following the instructions in the guide.
Q: We’re using a Type 3 FME. Does it matter which samples we’ll put in Ampoule A and which in Ampoule B?
Exactly what samples you’ll place inside each ampoule (and the main experiment volume) is part of your experiment design and so up to you. Just remember that Ampoule A, which will be cracked first in orbit, must be loaded into the FME first, and Ampoule B, which will be cracked last, must be loaded into the FME last. You’ll want to make sure the contents of the ampoules match what you’ll want to have activated first and second in your experiment. See the NanoRacks MixStik (FME) Kit Instruction PDF file and video located in the Document Library for more information on how to load the ampoules into the FME (MixStik.)
More information on the operation of the FME mini-laboratory can be found on the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Mini-Laboratory Operation page.
FME Experiment Design
Q: We are doing an experiment on vitamin D3 in space and we need to know if there is a way to measure the nutrients in a vitamin in space.
This question is more about the ways one can design the experiment rather than the operation of the mini-laboratory or the constraints on its operation. It is a question that should be addressed by the student team as part of their research and framing of the experiment. We suggest you make connections with nutritionists or food scientists in your community (you can start by talking with your school nurse, for example) and discuss different ways to measure the vitamin content of food products available to you in your community. If the nutritionists and food scientists help you come up with a good way to complete your investigation, you may want to ask them to be advisors on your proposal. Also, when designing your experiment, remember that you can make measurements of your sample before you seal the FME and send it for incorporation into the SSEP payload and after you’ll received the FME back after the flight, but not while the mini-laboratory is in space.
Q: How could we design a successful experiment using mouse embryonic stem cells?
This question should be addressed by the student team as part of their research and framing of the experiment. We suggest you make connections with stem cell researchers in your community and discuss different ways to conduct a viable experiment in microgravity. The scientists can then act as advisors in your proposal! Familiarize them with the mini-lab, and the documents available in the Document Library, so they can help you noodle around.
Q: I am wondering how organisms can survive in the FME for such a long period of time?
One of the central elements of designing a successful biological experiment for this flight opportunity is to make sure the organisms are active during the time the experiment is conducted in microgravity, since it will take several weeks to transport the FME from the student team to the ISS, and the mini-laboratory will stay aboard the ISS for several weeks. There is a document in the Document Library called Using Biologicals in SSEP Experiments: Dormant Forms, Fixatives and Growth Inhibitors, which discusses different ways to take the long transportation time to the ISS, and the stay of the experiments aboard the ISS, into account in your experiment design.
Q: Can you refrigerate samples during transportation?
Yes, samples can be refrigerated for most of the transportation from the student team to the ISS and back. See the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS: Mini-Laboratory Operation page for more information on the available thermal controls.
Q: We are thinking of sending frozen samples in our experiment. Can we make sure the samples remain frozen until they reach the ISS?
Unfortunately not. In fact, if you’ll send samples that are at below-freezing temperatures in the FME, then the samples are likely to be unfrozen even before they will reach Houston and are incorporated in the payload to be sent to Kazakhstan for launch to the ISS. There is no way to keep the samples frozen (just refrigerated) after they leave your hands. Instead of using samples that need to be kept at below-freezing temperatures, your team may want to think of other ways to preserve the samples, such as freeze-drying.
Q: Is there a chance our samples could freeze during transportation to the ISS?
The way the FMEs are going to be transported from Houston to Kazakhstan for launch, then to the ISS, and later back to Earth, to Houston is designed to keep the samples at 2ºC (35.6ºF) or above, which is above freezing. So, based on what we know of the transportation environment, the samples should not experience freezing conditions, just possibly refrigerated ones. Aboard the International Space Station, you can specify whether your experiment is kept at room temperature or refrigerated (but not frozen) during its stay on the station. You can see more information on the temperature environments available in Section 6.4 of the FME mini-laboratory description page.
Q: What are the special handling requirements for different kinds of samples?
There are no special handling requirements from the program’s perspective except for samples that come from the human body (such as blood), which the student teams must have tested against a few diseases (Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-1, and HTLV-2) before they can be flown. If you are planning on using human samples in your experiment, make sure you’ll have access to proper testing facilities before completing your proposal, since your team needs to be able to conduct these tests before the experiment can fly. If there are any special handling requirements for your experiments that you would like to ask for the transportation of the FME to the ISS or back to you, or while the FME is aboard the ISS, you may make these special handling requests (e.g., request for refrigeration of samples during transportation) in your proposal form, but whether these kinds of requests are necessary will depend on your experiment design, of course.
Q: I wonder if it would be worthwhile to do an experiment investigating the behavior of plant cell walls in microgravity.
This question is more about the basic rationale for designing an experiment and framing a question to be answered by the experiment rather than how the mini-laboratory works or the constraints on its operation. It is a question that should be addressed by the student team as part of their research and framing of the experiment. We suggest you make connections with plant biologists in your community and discuss what kind of specific question could be addressed by your experiment within the constraints of the mini-laboratory to be used. To see the kinds of research that has been done in this area before, you can use your favorite Web search engine to look for research papers in this area. If any past experiment descriptions pop up, you can read through the discussions to get more ideas for your own experiment design. Scientists build on previous work done by themselves or by others, and so having descriptions of previous experiments to build on is a great resource for your own experiment design. You also may want to check out experiments flown during previous SSEP opportunities to see if these kinds of experiments have been flown by other student teams. See the Selected Experiments on STS-134 and Selected Experiments on STS-135 pages for descriptions of previously flown SSEP experiments.
Q: With regard to the 5 week in transit period of time between leaving Houston and docking with the ISS-are there any living species that could still be alive in the vials after 5 weeks?
This issue – which may look like a major challenge for many biological experiments at first sight – can be overcome by the use of dormant forms of organisms that are activated once the experiment is initiated in orbit. There is a document called “Using Biologicals in SSEP Experiments: Dormant Forms, Fixatives and Growth Inhibitors” in the Document Library that discusses these aspects of biological experiment design. As discussed in the document, we recommend that student teams designing biological experiments contact professional researchers in nearby colleges and research labs; the scientists can, among other things, help decide the best dormant forms of samples to use, and the best methods to activate them in orbit. While dormant forms may not be available for every biological sample one could imagine using, understanding how this issue may constrain the possible ways a specific question can be examined is an important part of the experiment design process. Scientists must always figure out a way to answer the specific question within the constraints of the experiment apparatus made available to them; this is another way the SSEP teams are working the same way as professional scientists!
Q: Can you tell us the best samples to use for our experiment?
The SSEP program headquarters cannot give opinions on the best samples to use or make recommendations on other aspects of experiment design to the student teams. We can say whether a particular sample or another aspect of experiment design is possible, given the constraints of the operation of the mini-laboratory, but not suggest what might be the best samples to use or whether a particular aspect of experiment design is the best way to conduct it. For example, we can explain the kinds of thermal controls that are available during the flight (such as refrigeration) but not suggest whether it would be a good idea for the experiment to use these controls. The reason is that the SSEP program headquarters will have to make the final selections of the experiments that will fly from each community, and so we would have a huge conflict of interest if we offered advice on best experiment design to some student teams, since, basically, we would participate in the actual experiment design at that point! Instead, a good way to look for suggestions on best samples to use or the best ways to design a particular aspect of your experiment is to look up past experiments that may be similar to what you have in mind. Reading the descriptions of these experiments may give you hints on the best way to design your own experiment. You can start by seeing what other researchers have done in the past in similar situations. You may want to start by doing a Web search using some key words from your experiment – such as the key question and the specific sample you are planning to use – and see what if your search finds any articles that discuss similar experiments conducted in the past. Typically, these kinds of searches can provide hundreds or even thousands of results! You may also want to contact your local university or biological research lab and see if they have a scientist on staff that would be able to help you look for previous studies in the area of your experiment and choose the best samples to use for your own study. You also may want to check out experiments flown during previous SSEP opportunities to see if these kinds of experiments have been flown by other student teams. See the Selected Experiments on STS-134 and Selected Experiments on STS-135 pages for descriptions of previously flown SSEP experiments.
Q: When will the experiments be transferred to the ISS from Soyuz 30?
Soyuz 30 is scheduled to dock with the ISS on April 1, 2012. The SSEP payload will be transferred to the station within three days of docking. If there are any actions that the student team would like to be done as soon as the payload is transferred to the ISS (e.g., place the FME in a refrigerator), the team can request this in their proposal, and the action will be taken as soon as the payload is transferred to the ISS, no matter on which calendar day it happens.
Q: When are the experiments moved to the Soyuz 29 spacecraft to be returned to Earth? How late can we ask our FME to be manipulated?
The SSEP payload will be returned to Earth aboard Soyuz 29, which is scheduled to undock from the ISS on May 16, 2012. The payload will be transferred to the spacecraft between 8 and 24 hours before undocking. This means that the last time the experiments can be manipulated is one day before undocking.
Q: Is it possible for Soyuz 29 undocking to be delayed? If it is delayed, can we modify the timeline for our experiment to reflect the new undocking date?
Yes, the undocking of Souyz 29 can be delayed, but this would be an unexpected situation and so it would be dealt with if and when it happens. If it were to become necessary, we’ll work with all student teams to make any necessary revisions to the experiment timeline. We’d expect to hear of any departure delay about two weeks before the scheduled undocking date.
General Questions about Designing SSEP Experiments and Writing the Proposal
Q: Do the student teams that are writing a proposal to conduct an experiment aboard the ISS need to test their experiment in advance, or do they just write the proposal, and only the winning group will test and conduct the experiment?
The students are writing an experiment proposal to try and secure the experiment slot aboard the ISS for their experiment, just like real scientists writing research proposals. Typically, scientists want to try and test their proposed experiment as much as possible before writing the actual proposal to make sure the experiment is viable. In fact, describing the tests in a proposal shows that the experiment is well thought out, and, since the basic operation of the experiment is now well understood, more likely to succeed. For the purposes of the SSEP, tests done by the student teams can answer simple questions such as “Do the samples fit in the FME experiment volumes?”, “Can I obtain the samples I need?”, “Will the seed germinate in the time the FME is aboard the ISS?” that would not be possible to answer just by thinking about them. Also, if a student team is planning to conduct a ground-truth version of the experiment while the experiment is in process in orbit, it would be highly advisable to conduct a test at this time to make sure any easily preventable problems are eliminated before conducting the actual experiment. Therefore, while conducting test experiments before writing a proposal is not required, it is highly recommended.
Q: Will the student teams be given funds to test and conduct their experiments? Will the winning groups be given any money to purchase supplies to conduct their experiment?
The costs of supplies (fluids and solid samples) for testing the experiment design and the supplies for the actual experiment to fly aboard the ISS are the responsibility of the participating community. Student teams are encouraged to talk with their teachers and their SSEP community leaders to see if they can obtain funding for their experiment supplies. Given that the volumes of samples to be used in the FME are relatively small, the funds required for supplies to test (and eventually fly) the experiments should be quite reasonable. In fact, if you tell a vendor what the supplies are for – an experiment to be flown in space – they might even provide the supplies at no cost – particularly if you tell them that SSEP would be happy to list them as a Local Partner organization!
Q: We have a question about page limit specifications. Is the two page limit for the experiment rationale the minimum or maximum? We have the same question for the experiment design-is the three page limit a minimum or maximum?
Both of these are maximum limits; that is, the experiment rationale must not be more than two pages, and the experiment design not more than three pages long.
Q: Are the proposals supposed to be written single- or double-spaced?
The proposal pages should be single-spaced.
Q: Are we required to include a list of sources we used to prepare our proposal?
It is not absolutely necessary to list the sources for your background research as you prepared your proposal, but it is highly recommended. The reference list – for example a list of Web sites from which you found information relevant for your experiment design – will give the proposal reviewers an idea of how much background research your team has done while designing the experiment, and where this background information may have come from. References are an important part of proposals written by professional scientists, and since the SSEP process is designed to have student scientists follow the same path as professional scientists, it is highly recommended for the student teams to include a reference list in their proposals, as well.
See the Flight Experiment Proposal Guide (downloadable from the Document Library) for more details on how to prepare your proposal.
Q: Where I can get the username and password for the document library?
Your teacher can give you the username and password to access the Document Library. If your teacher does not have this information handy, she or he can contact your SSEP Community Program Director for the information.
Q: How can I find information about my community’s participation in the SSEP program?
See the SSEP Community Network page for more information on the communities participating in the program. The page includes links to the participating community profiles and blogs.
Required Information for Selected Experiments
Q: When are the winning proposals selected?
The Step 2 Review Board will review the finalists from each community during a proposal review meeting on December 13-14, 2011. The tentative selection of flight experiments from each community are made by the end of the meeting on December 14, 2011. The results are provided to the community leaders and the teacher facilitators of the winning teams on December 15. The results are not announced publicly at that time, since before the selections can be finalized, the tentatively selected winning teams must confirm their experiment details and provide additional information required for flight safety review to be conducted by NASA Toxicology. The teams must provide the required information to NCESSE before the selection of their experiment for flight can be confirmed. The final selection of flight experiments is announced publicly on December 23, 2011.
Q: What kind of information must we provide for the selected experiments?
The teams must answer any questions the Step 2 Review Board may have about experiment details before the experiment can be selected. The teams must finalize the details in Section III (Experiment Materials and Handling Requirements Pages) of their proposal, especially the samples list that needs to be submitted to NASA Toxicology. The teams must provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all samples used in their experiment. MSDS is a document that lists data about the properties of a substance; it is intended to provide information about any potential hazards associated with the material and describe any safety precautions that may need to be taken when handling the substance. If the teams are using human samples, they also must provide certification that the samples have been tested against a list of prohibited viruses. Update (Dec 15): Student teams are not required to submit MSDSs for their samples; NanoRacks will take care of locating the Data Sheets for this flight opportunity.
Q: When do we need to provide the required information for tentatively selected experiments?
Since confirming the experiment details and providing the additional information is part of the experiment selection process, the teams must provide the information within a few days after the tentative selection of their experiment for flight to make sure all necessary information is ready for submission to NanoRacks for delivery to NASA Toxicology before the winning experiments are announced on December 23.
Q: What if we cannot get this information in time?
The required information must be available before for the formal flight safety review submission deadline (December 26), or the experiment simply cannot fly. This means that if the tentatively selected teams cannot provide all the necessary information and documents in time, they forfeit their experiment slot, and another experiment from the community must be selected for flight, instead. In that case, the new team needs to provide the required information before the selection of their experiment for flight can be confirmed. This means that during the time between the tentative selection of flight experiments (December 14) and the official announcement of confirmed flight experiments (December 23), the tentatively selected experiment teams must provide the required information quickly enough so that their selection can be confirmed or another experiment can be selected and confirmed before the official announcement of flight experiments.
Q: Are Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) required for all samples?
Yes, NASA Toxicology requires an MSDS for every sample to be flown in the experiment, even for samples that appear harmless, such as water. The tentatively selected experiment teams must secure and submit to NCESSE an MSDS for every sample in their experiment. Update (Dec 15): Student teams are not required to submit MSDSs for their samples; NanoRacks will take care of locating the Data Sheets for this flight opportunity.
Q: Where can we find Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for our samples?
Usually, you can obtain an MSDS from the vendor from whom you purchased the sample. You can also make an Internet search for the words “Material Safety Data Sheet” and your sample, and you’re likely to find an MSDS for your sample pop up as a search result. In fact, this is the best way to find the MSDS for everyday samples such as water. The MSDS for a generic version of the sample is fine: for example, you can use the generic MSDS for water, whether you are using distilled water or tap water. If you are having trouble locating the documents for all your samples, contact us at email@example.com. Update (Dec 15): Student teams are not required to submit MSDSs for their samples; NanoRacks will take care of locating the Data Sheets for this flight opportunity.
Q: We understand that human samples, such as blood, need to be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-1, and HTLV-2. Does this mean just primary human samples (samples taken recently from a human being, such as blood), or every kind of human sample, even if they are just samples derived from humans years ago, such as cell lines?
NanoRacks has informed us that NASA Toxicology requires all human samples to be tested for these viruses, whether the samples are primary or derived from humans in the past.
Q: What kind of certification is required to show that a human sample is free of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-1, and HTLV-2? Do we need to provide the actual test results from a medical laboratory?
A certification letter from the vendor providing the sample to the student team is sufficient. The certification letter needs to state that tests for the presence of these viruses in the sample to be used for the flight experiment have been conducted, and the sample is free of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-1, and HTLV-2. If a vendor cannot provide the certification for some reason, the student team must arrange for these tests to be conducted in a medical laboratory. The laboratory must then provide the certification letter, but sending the actual testing results is not required (though if you have the results available, including them doesn’t hurt).
Q: In what kind of format do the MSDSs and certification letters for human samples need to be provided?
The documents must be provided electronically as PDF files; no hardcopies are accepted. In most cases, the MSDSs are available online as downloadable PDF files. In cases where the documents are available in another format, they can usually be converted easily to a PDF file (e.g., by printing to a PDF file instead of physically printing the document). If you have a document just as a hardcopy – for example, a certification letter provided by a medical laboratory – you can scan the document and save it as a PDF file. All required documents for the experiment must be submitted at the same time to NCESSE by the team’s teacher facilitator or the community leader as a response to the email requesting the necessary information for the tentatively selected experiment.
Q: When do we need to provide the final timeline for experiments aboard the Station?
While the final samples list with maximum concentrations for all samples was due on December 23, 2011, (and it is not possible to introduce any new samples to the experiment or increase the concentrations of any samples at this point), other details of the experiment, such as the timeline for manipulating the FME aboard the ISS can be modified until February 20, 2012. The experiment teams are urged to use the time between the selection of their experiment for flight and the time at which the final timeline is due to test their experiment to make sure the timeline for the experiment aboard the station is optimal for the experiment.
Q: What are the basic restrictions for the timeline for the experiments on the Station? When can they start? When do they have to end?
The SSEP payload will arrive on the ISS aboard Soyuz 30, which is scheduled to dock with the station on April 1, 2012. It may take up to three days for the payload to be transferred to the ISS, which means that the payload arrives at the ISS on April 1 at the earliest and April 4 at the latest. The payload will return to Earth on Soyuz 29, which is scheduled to undock from the station on May 16. The SSEP payload will be transferred to the Soyuz 8-24 hours before undocking, which means that the experiment payload will be transferred to the Soyuz on May 15 or 16, depending on the transfer window and the undocking time. This means that the teams can ask for their experiments to be handled on specific dates between April 4 and May 15. If the teams want to make sure that their experiments are manipulated as early or as late as possible, they can ask for FMEs to be manipulated “Immediately after FME arrives at ISS” or “As late as possible before undocking.” In these cases, the FMEs are handled as soon or as late as possible, rather than on a specific date.
Q: Where do we specify the timeline to be used for the experiment?
As part of finalizing the experiment details, each experiment team will complete an Experiment Details Confirmation Form, which will list the important details for the experiment: the samples with their final concentrations, special handling requirements (if any), and the timeline for manipulating the experiment aboard the ISS. The preliminary form was completed by the student teams in December, as part of the preparation of experiment details for flight safety review; the final version of the form is due on February 20, 2012.
Q: In what format do we need to provide the timeline? In actual dates (e.g., May 15), or something else?
The timeline for the experiment aboard the station must be in terms of “Undocking – (number of days)” – that is, a specific number of days before Soyuz 29 is scheduled to undock from the station and return the SSEP payload to Earth. The exceptions are activities that are to be done immediately after the payload arrives at the station or as late as possible before undocking; these steps are to be listed as “Immediately after FME arrives at ISS” or “As late as possible before undocking.” The teams can add calendar dates to their timeline if that helps them to keep track of the experiment, but the activities will be scheduled based on the “Undocking – number of days” entries, so it is important for the teams to make sure that the timeline in the “Udocking -” format matches their plans.
Q: Can we ask astronauts to manipulate the FMEs on any day during the stay of the payload aboard the ISS?
Since the ISS is a working laboratory and is in that regard just like any workplace, the astronauts get the weekends off. So, the teams can ask for the FMEs to be manipulated on any weekday the SSEP payload is aboard the station within the handling window mentioned above (roughly April 4 – May 15), as well as immediately after arrival and as late as possible before undocking.
Q: Can we ask the astronauts to manipulate the FMEs at a specific time during the day?
Unfortunately not. The astronauts will work with the SSEP payload at a time that fits best in their work schedule on each day. The time at which the payload is handled may also change from one day to another.
Q: If we’ll not know in advance when our FME is manipulated, when will we find out? How can we take this into account in our ground truth experiment?
It probably will take about a day to get information about the exact time at which the FME was manipulated aboard the ISS to the student teams. The teams may therefore plan to conduct their ground truth experiments at least a day later to make sure the teams have enough time to follow the same timing for their ground truth experiments as the experiment conducted aboard the station. That is, if the team’s FME is to be activated on May 8, 2012, and deactivated on May 10, 2012, aboard the ISS, the team may want to have their ground control FME activated on May 9, 2012, and deactivated on May 11, 2012 so that they can match the actual activation and deactivation times aboard the Station.
Q: Can we have our FME manipulated more than once on the same day, a few minutes or a few hours apart?
The teams can ask for their FMEs to be manipulated twice on the same day, but this is not guaranteed. Remember that the times at which the astronauts will handle the SSEP payload will depend on the overall work schedule for the day, and so it depends on whether there is enough time for a second handling of the SSEP payload on the same day. The team can also ask for their FME to be manipulated a few minutes apart, but they are advised not to expect extreme accuracy. The teams will find out the exact times at which their FME were manipulated when the report on the daily activities arrives on the ground, so they’ll know the exact timing of their experiment at that point.
Q: What if the undocking of Soyuz 29 is delayed for some reason? Can we adjust the timeline for our experiment in this case to make sure it is performed as close to the return to Earth as possible?
Yes. If the departure date of Soyuz 29 is modified early enough (that is, the delay is not at the last minute such as after the SSEP payload has been transferred to the transport vehicle), the timeline for the experiment can be modified to take the delay into account. Barring a major program interruption, we would expect to get about two weeks notice of any change, which gives plenty of time to make any timeline modifications in response to a delay.
Preparing Your Experiment for Flight
Q: The vendor for our samples needs to know the shipping destination for our experiment. What is the final destination of our package? Do we need any kind of export permits to fly our samples to the International Space Station?
The student teams will ship the FME loaded with their samples to NanoRacks in Houston (for the exact shipping address, which you can provide to the vendor as a destination address, if required, contact Harri Vanhala), which will then incorporate the mini-laboratory into the SSEP payload and hand it over to NASA for vehicle integration. Therefore, the final destination of the package is NASA. Once NanoRacks payloads are accepted by NASA safety (on approval of the Phase III Safety Data Package) the payloads belong to NASA for these purposes. Then, as part of the NASA manifest, the payloads are under the IGA agreement covering the ISS, and no export is considered necessary.
Q: We are using a Type 3 FME with two glass ampoules inside the outer Teflon tube. When we load our samples to the mini-laboratory, do we need to label the ampoules somehow to mark which one is Ampoule A and which one is Ampoule B?
No labeling is necessary. The two ampoules can be told apart by the order in which you load them into the FME: Ampoule A is loaded into the FME first, and cracked in orbit first; Ampoule B is loaded into the FME second, and cracked in orbit second. The order in which the ampoules are placed inside the FME is sufficient designation for the different ampoules, and the student team does not need to label them. Once NanoRacks receives the mini-laboratory, they will heat-seal level 2 and 3 containment bags around the entire FME, and then mark the outside of the bags to let the astronauts know which end contains Ampoule A and Ampoule B. Any markings on the outer teflon tube will be ignored during payload processing, so the student team must make sure to load the ampoules into the mini-laboratory in the right order. However, if a student team wants to mark the outer tube for their own use (for example to help with the analysis of the experiment after the device has returned to Earth), they are welcome to do so.
The SSEP on-orbit research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.