STS-134 Experiment Design FAQ

This FAQ is specifically for SSEP on STS-134, and is made available as an archive for communities that participated in SSEP on STS-134.
This FAQ is updated as questions are received by the SSEP Team that relate to all aspects of flight experiment design for STS-134, 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 STS-134 Mini-Laboratory Operation page, and the STS-134 Critical Timeline page.

To submit a question to the SSEP Team, use the Contact Us page, or send an email to


Experiments in Microgravity

Q: Is there a list of experiments, with descriptions, that have been flown in the MDA?
Some examples of experiments flown on the MDA, or suitable for the MDA, can be found on the MDA page. A list of titles of student experiments can be found here.

We are assembling a document that will provide descriptions of a limited number of MDA experiments, through conversations with Principal Investigators, and files on record. Unfortunately a good central record of MDA experiments flown by both professional researchers and students does not exist. This document will be posted on the Document Library page.

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 Shuttle re-enters the atmosphere, the astronauts and everything else aboard Shuttle go from a “weightless” environment to an Earth gravity environment. The samples are fully contained in the MDA wells inside a locker in the crew cabin of the shuttle. They experience the effects of gravity “turning back on” just like the astronauts.

Q: How much shaking will the MDA experience during launch and reentry? Is it similar to bad turbulence aboard an airplane?
Shaking at liftoff 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 Shuttle during liftoff is 3g. In addition to the acceleration, the acoustic level – the noise in the cabin – is louder than on an airplane. Of the launch environment, astronaut Tom Jones said “Lying on my back when the main engines ignite, I felt the entire stack shudder like a skyscraper in an earthquake. The vibration reached a crescendo six seconds after ignition, when, at T-minus-0, the orbiter computers triggered the two solid-rocket boosters. On each of my four launches, that was the memorable moment — it felt as if a giant hammer had walloped my seat from below, giving me a brutal shove. As the stack leapt off the pad, we were whipsawed left, right, forward and back as the booster nozzles swiveled to balance on a pillar of golden flame. The vibration was more intense than ever, shaking us like a pickup truck bucketing down a dirt road at 50 mph. We were already at 2 g’s, heading for two and a half g’s just before booster burn-out. No, it’s not a ride you forget!”

The reentry environment is far less severe. While some buffeting occurs as the vehicle reenters the thicker atmosphere at high speed, it is more like aboard an aircraft, and the maximum g level is only about 1.7. Touchdown speed is about twice that of a commercial airliner but since the pilots are among the best in the world, any astronaut will tell you that you’d likely never feel the “jolt” of a regular airplane landing.

For experiment design, this means that there is no need to be overly concerned about the effect of liftoff or reentry on your experiment. While the liftoff environment is severe, it will not affect any mixing of samples in the MDA, since the two sample wells are not combined until after the Shuttle is in the “quiet” environment of orbit. At the end of the mission, the reentry environment is sufficiently quiet that it is not expected to have an effect on the experiment, either.

Samples (Fluids and Solids) that Can Be Used in the Experiment

Q: We could not find the following on the approved toxicology list [the Master List of Experiment Samples]. Can we use these?
Examples of requested samples from students and teachers across the participating communities:
• Is it possible to use small parts of a flower?
• We were thinking about using blood and semen. Can we?
• Can we use rabbit liver?
• Is fluoride permitted in the experiment?
• Can we use an amino acid auxotroph E Coli strain?
• GFP reporter plasmid?
• Can we use a transformed E Coli cell with a foreign plasmid?
• Will you consider living things not on the materials list already? (baby cockroach? spider eggs?)
• Can we use HeLa cells and MRSA spores?
• Is rubbing alcohol an approved material?
• Is it possible to use sperm?
• Can I use hemoglobin and myoglobin?
• Can I use HGH (Human Growth Hormone)?
• Are Copepods allowed?
• I was wondering if I can use silly putty.
• Can we use frog or fish sperm?
• We would like to use hormones, cholesterol, and bile salts.
• Can we use zooplankton?
• Can we use margarin?
• Can we use live diatoms?
• Can we use magnets (nano magnets)?
• Can we use Bombyx mori eggs?
• Can we use aluminum (or other metal) foam?
• Can we use yeast?
• Can we use Sea Monkey Growth Food?
• Are Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) seeds allowed?

Unfortunately, if it is not on the Master List of Samples, the experiment will not be selected for flight. None of the samples listed above are on the Master List.

Q: Does a blastocyst count as mouse embryo cells?
We believe the answer is “YES”.

Q: Is it viable to expect a mouse cell to survive for the 10 days of flight, plus travel days?
This is a very different kind of question. It really asks details of the potential science to be undertaken, and not the operation of the minilab 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. For example, this question could *be* the essential question for an experiment. We suggest you make connections with biologists, and biologists that have worked on microgravity experiments, and invite them to be advisors. Familiarize them with the MDA minilab, and the Master List of Samples so they can help you noodle around.

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 scientific experiment in general rather than the operation of the minilab 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 in your proposal! Also, when designing your experiment, remember that you can make measurements of your sample before launch and after landing, but not while it is in the MDA minilab in space, so you just need to figure out how to make the measurements in your community and don’t have to worry about how to make the same measurements in space.

Q: If I was to use the Planaria worm in Artesian well water should I expect to see a difference in regeneration in microgravity considering they will be submerged in water from the start?
This question is more about the ways one can design the scientific experiment rather than the operation of the minilab or the constraints on its operation. In fact, this question could *be* the essential question for an experiment. When thinking about the experiment, remember that even though the Planaria worm is submerged in water in your laboratory, it still feels the gravitational pull of the Earth; when your experiment with the worm is in orbit, it experiences microgravity for the duration of the flight (in addition to normal surface conditions before and after the flight.) Is there a difference in the rate of regeneration because the worm spent 10 days in microgravity while regenerating? That could be the central question to be answered by the experiment! Note that the Microgravity Science Background and Microgravity Experiment Case Studies Documents discuss the kinds of science one could imagine doing with various organisms and samples, including the Planaria worm. These documents can be downloaded from the SSEP document library.

Q: In your Master List of Experiment Samples, in the Category for Cell Biology, you have listed a sample that has the length for an oligonucleotide (26 Nucleotide-long oligonucleotide), but fail to denote by what? (kb, bp or merck). I was wondering if we are able to use a larger oligonucleotide.
This is a very different type of question about the materials list in the sense that it is not to inquire whether a specific material is allowed for flight or not, but, rather, asks for a refinement of the description of a material in the list, given that the original description may be open for interpretation. The original description refers to the 26-base-pair-long oligonucleotide that was approved for flight on an earlier Shuttle mission. However, since the length of the oligonucleotide in terms of base pairs does not affect the safety of the sample, the SSEP team has agreed to omit the length requirement and allow experiment designs to include oligonucleotides of shorter or longer lengths than 26 base pairs.

Q: Are other strains of the bacteria Pseudomonas Aeruginosa or E. Coli allowed in the experiment?
No; only the strains specified in the Master List of Experiment Samples are allowed for this flight opportunity.

Q: In the Cell Biology section of the Master List of Experiment Samples, the chemical “Raloxitine Hydrochloride” is listed. There is little information on this chemical. Is it possible the name is misspelled and is actually “raloxifene hydrochloride?”
Yes, the correct spelling of the chemical is raloxifene hydrochloride.

Q: Can you give me specific information on the polystyrene particles that are listed? Are they “microbeads” by any chance?
Polystyrene particles are a type of microbeads; that is: small, spherical particles that are commercially available on various sizes. You can find out more about the types of polystyrene particles available on various Web sites, such as

Q: Is corn powder the same as cornstarch?
Yes, cornstarch is a form of corn powder, one of the materials in the Master List of Experiment Samples, and so can be used in your experiment.

Q: Yeast extract is in a R2A broth in the allowed materials list, and the students were curious if they could send up just the yeast extract in a liquid; that is, just use part of an entry from the allowed materials list.
Yes, you are allowed to use just part of an entry in the allowed materials list; and, so, you are allowed to use yeast extract. To see how yeast extract is different from regular yeast (which unfortunately is not on the allowed materials list and so is not an allowed material for this flight opportunity), you can find numerous Web sites discussing the product by searching for the term on the Internet.

Q: Can we combine items from different material lists to help measure the results of our experiment?
Yes: you are allowed to combine materials listed under different categories of experiments.

Q: Can we use any type of honey for the experiment?
Yes, as long as you are using actual honey and not a processed product (such as honey powder.)

Q: Would we be able to boil water before putting it in the well?
Yes, you are allowed to boil water before you provide the sample to be placed in the well.

Q: How could we design a successful experiment using mouse embryonic stem cells?
This question is more about the ways one can design the scientific experiment in general rather than the operation of the minilab 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 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! We can offer a few thoughts based on past experiments. Previous cell biology experiments using the MDA have benefited from a slightly different experiment arrangement, where the experiment can be activated in orbit (as with the current arrangement), but it also can be stopped at a later time by adding a fixative from a third well. Unfortunately the current MDA arrangement for the SSEP doesn’t allow for the third well, so adding a fixative this way is not possible. I would advise your students to talk with the local expert to see if there might be a way to introduce a fixative some other way by using the available MDA configuration. If adding a fixative is not possible, and the experiment were to run its course with the stem cells dead at the end of the experiment, another possibility would be to think if there is any way to evaluate the results of the experiment. For example, are there any chemical markers that would allow for analysis of the behavior of the system during the flight? Or any changes in the cellular structure that might be observable even in dead cells? Your local stem cell research expert may be able to suggest several ways in which to observe how the system behaved on orbit even from dead cells, when compared with a control experiment that remained on Earth in the same experiment configuration as the experiment that flew on the Shuttle.

Q: Is cheese considered a bovine milk product in the experiment?
Yes; as long as the cheese is made from cow milk (and not goat milk, for example), it is allowed for the experiment.

Q: Could you provide further information on the lines of mouse embryonic stem cells allowed in the experiment? The lines currently listed in the list seem to combine human and mouse embryonic stem cell lines.
You are correct: the current listing combines the lines due to the previous experiment using these samples. To clarify the situation, we are amending the allowed samples to include the three commonly available mouse embryonic stem cell lines: B6N, 129, and C57BL/6.

Q: I’m doing my project on seeing if the growth rate of of E.Coli ATCC 23848 (a k-12 wild type strain) is affected by microgravity. Now, the bacteria requires ATCC medium: 3 Nutrient agar or nutrient broth for it to grow and I know that agar is permitted, but I’m just double checking if this too would be permitted.
As long as the ingredient is listed in the allowed samples list, it is fine for use in your experiment proposal. That means that, yes, agar is permitted in the form you mentioned, as well as the following two nutrient broths: Luria Broth Medium and R2A Broth, as listed in the allowed samples list.

Q: We need to know a place where we can obtain saltwater fish eggs and sperm of the same species.
First, you may want make sure that all the samples you want to use in your experiment are listed in the Master List of Experiment Samples. For example, fish eggs are included in the list and so are fine to use, but sperm is not, so you may want to make sure you can design your experiment to use just fish eggs. The allowed samples list can be downloaded from the SSEP Document Library. Where you can get supplies for your experiment is part of your experiment design, and so part of the competition, and so we cannot give you an exact answer to where you can purchase the materials. Our advice would be to talk with the teachers in your school and perhaps other schools in your area. For example, biology teachers in a nearby high school may know many places in your community to purchase biological supplies. Also, you may just want to visit a local pet store and have a chat with their fish expert, or search for stores selling saltwater fish eggs online.

Q: We are wondering if the species of Xenopus laevis would be considered under the list of “various frog eggs,” in the Master List of Experiment Samples.
Yes; African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) is a species of frog, and so the Xenopus laevis eggs are allowed samples.

Q: May we use some unnamed bacteria?
You may use only the bacteria specifically listed in the Master List of Experiment Samples document are allowed, and even other strains of the bacteria from what are listed in the document are not allowed. So, you must name the bacteria you’re using, and it must be one of the bacteria in the document.

Q: May we use salt water?
Since water and basic salt (sodium chloride) are both listed in the Master List of Experiment Samples, mixing the two is fine, so you can use salt water, as long as it is just a mixture of salt and water; you are not allowed to just scoop a sample of water from the ocean, for example, and use it as salt water.

Q: Are apple seeds allowed?
A wide variety of seeds are listed in the Master List of Experiment Samples, and the list can be amended to include apple and other fruit seeds as long as they are of a variety that will fit into the .125″ diameter well of the MDA.

Q: Is lactose allowed?
Since lactose can be considered a bovine milk product, it is allowed in the experiment.

Q: Are different types of agar medium allowed?
Yes, varieties such as plain agar, nutrient agar, and tryptic soy agar are allowed in the experiment.

MDA Operation

Q: Is the MDA to fly on Shuttle sterilized before it is loaded with the experiment samples?
Yes, The MDA is soaked in a bath of 99% pure Isopropyl alcohol to sterilize. The MDA is not heat baked because the MDA blocks are made from a machined polymer material. Heating could cause warping of the block material, which would damage the unit.

Q: What is the temperature of the MDA during the experiment?
The experiments in the MDA will experience the ambient conditions of the Shuttle’s crew cabin, with a temperature of 70-75°F (21-24°C)—a shirtsleeve environment.

Q: Can a heat source be added?
There is no active environmental/thermal control of the minilab. As a result, the experiments in the MDA will experience the ambient conditions of the Shuttle’s crew cabin, with a temperature of 70-75°F (21-24°C).

Q: Are there windows in the experiment containment unit?
The entire minilab is placed inside an aircraft aluminum housing to help ensure that the sample materials are not introduced into the Shuttle crew cabin. Unfortunately this housing does not have windows.

Q: Can part of the analysis include a video recording of the experiment that would occur the duration of the experiment?
The aircraft aluminum housing of the MDA does not include windows, which means that no photographs or video of the experiment can be taken during the flight.

Q: My group’s project uses two wells and we are wondering if we are allowed to put two different substances in one well?
Yes, you can place two different substances in one well.

Q: Is it necessary to mix the substances in space? Or can the substances be mixed on Earth, to ensure that they actually mixed, and 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 before the experiment is loaded on the Shuttle. In this case, you would just try and see how the results may differ between your experiment that spent 10 days 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, and not a Type 2-Prime, well for your experiment.

Q: What materials are the wells made of?
The blocks where the experiment wells are housed are made of an inert polymer; examples of these kinds of thermoplastics are Lexan and Lucite.

Q: Using our sample block we notice that fluids in the individual sample wells don’t move. As we will be putting liquid in the top part, how will the fluid move to the lower part of the block. We found that we need to shake the block to move the fluid into the lower wells. Will there be any movements to ensure that are samples mix thoroughly.
No, the MDA is not shaken in orbit to mix fluids. The fact is that fluids will not mix readily in microgravity because the effect of gravity is not help with the mixing. If a quick mix is required by an experimenter, there is an option (but NOT available for student experiments because of complexity and cost reasons) where magnetic material can be pulled through the two mixing fluids which forces a quick mix. However, this is not required for a ten day mission such as STS-134. The wells are completely filled with the samples, which accentuates the mixing process in the MDA wells, and ten days is normally plenty of time for mixing to take place. When designing your experiment, just remember to take into account the fact that the mixing is not instantaneous and will take a little time. If appropriate, you can add suitable material to speed up moving fluids between the wells. For example, if you want to expose a seed to moisture in orbit, you could wrap the seed in cotton in one of the wells to speed up bringing moisture from a water-filled second well once the wells come into contact in orbit.

Q: Are the experiment capsules going to be shut? Does this affect experiments such as growing crystals, which we are proposing?
Yes, the experiments are sealed in the well (if using Type 1 well) or sealed in the two wells until they come into contact in orbit (if using Type 2-Prime well) by having the two sliding blocks of the MDA line on top of each other (see the images on the MDA description page.) As long as this effect is taken into account in the design of your experiment, there should be no problems with experiments such as growing crystals in the MDA. In fact, these kinds of experiments have been done successfully during earlier Shuttle flights, and many of the experiments listed in the Case Studies document in the SSEP Document Library have been conducted with the MDA in the past, including the example inorganic crystal growth experiment.

Q: Are the samples loaded in the MDA in a sterile environment?
The laboratory where the experiments will be loaded to the MDA for the Shuttle flight is a class 100,000 clean room, but it is not sterile in the medical sense. The fluids/samples compatibility test will be done in a regular laboratory that is neither a clean room nor a sterile environment. However, the equipment used to place the samples into and extract them from the MDA are sterilized, as described earlier in this section of the FAQ. So, the equipment will be sterile, but the environment not.

More information on the MDA can be found on the MDA description page.

MDA Loading and Harvesting of Samples (Fluids and Solids)

Q: How are fluids and solids extracted in terms of not causing damage? e.g. to seedlings or to living tissue or organisms.
ITA personnel that will fill and extract experiments in the MDA are skilled technicians with almost two decades of experience working with the MDA. Fluids are extracted by pipettor. A pipettor is analogous to a sophisticated eye dropper. Solids are very carefully extracted with tweezers. Any solids that cannot be extracted with tweezers because they have grown too large or become wedged or caught between the sliding blocks, are extracted by separating the blocks following fluid extraction.

Q: How is the full volume of each sample extracted?
In Type 2-Prime wells, fluid is extracted through the top block using a pipettor. If a solid cannot be extracted through the top block, it may be extracted following the separation of the two blocks.

Q: How is the sample provided to the student team in terms of carrier, e.g.. a vial?
ITA technicians will extract the experiment from the MDA well and place it inside a small inert polymer vial with an air tight threaded cap. The inert polymer vial is approximately 0.25” in dia X .075” long. This small vial is used for both fluid and solid samples. These small vials will be turned over to experimenters either onsite at the lab facilities outside Kennedy Space Center (KSC) following the landing or over-nighted to experimenters via FedEx. We are continuing to work on securing lab space for student groups near KSC.

Q: Is the harvesting done with the Type 2-Prime upper and lower wells aligned? In other words the full volume of the combined well is harvested and there is no added slide that could slice off the top of a seedling?
Yes that is correct.

Q: How are samples to be provided to ITA for loading? Are you looking for samples provided in a vial?
ITA will accept samples sealed in a small test tube or any appropriate sealed volume.

Q: When do you put the supplies (experiment samples) needed for the experiment in to the wells?
The bottom part of the MDA description page includes details on the timeline for providing the samples before and collecting the experiments after the Shuttle flight: You will need to provide your experiment samples by Launch minus 30 days if the samples are not time sensitive. If the samples are time sensitive, e.g., they contain living organisms, we will work with you to try and load the samples into the MDA within eight (8) hours before the payload is turned over to NASA. It’s also important to recognize that time critical scientific research also flying in the same MDA as the SSEP experiments will be loaded last. It’s reasonable to expect that the MDA will be turned over to NASA for payload integration at Launch minus 24 hours. For milestone dates on the loading of experiment samples, see the dates in the January-February timeframe on the Critical Timeline list.

MDA Experiment Design and Ground-truth Block

Q: Other than leasing the MDA Demonstration Unit is there any way we can get our hands on duplicate vials/wells for the ground-truth experiments? Can we contact the supplier for this?
There is no ‘supplier’ in the sense you mean. The MDA is a unique, custom-designed laboratory for use on Shuttle and other orbital and sub-orbital vehicles. The wells are not a ‘standard’ size, and ITA, the company that builds and leases the MDA for research, does not have any vials with the dimensions of the MDA wells. They make available the MDA Demo Unit. But a simple alternative was developed by NCESSE. It is the MDA Experiment Design and Ground-truth Block, which has 16 MDA-sized wells in a clear Lucite block. 14 of the 16 communities participating in SSEP have at least one of these blocks. Ask your SSEP Community Program Director if your community has a Lucite block. It is a great tool for designing your experiment too!

Q: We want to sterilize our Lucite block [the MDA Experiment Design and Ground-truth Block] and perform ground-truth biological experiments in it. Do you know if we can heat to 250 degrees-F without doing damage to the block?
Yes you can, the melting point for acrylic glass (e.g., Lucite, Plexiglas, etc.) is in the 400 to 600 degree-F range, depending on the specific material.

Q: I am wondering how organisms survive in the MDA for such a long period without oxygen. A local advisor claims that without changing the water or having a source of oxygen, the brine shrimp egg will die after about 3 hours. I assume that any aerobic organism might have a similar problem.
Q: We have recently found out that our Planaria worm needs oxygen to live…. As far as I understand the chambers are sealed which means no oxygen exchange, is that correct? If so, what off the list can I put in the chamber with them that will produce oxygen for them? I have looked and found nothing on the list that will supply them with an oxygen source.
Unfortunately there is no good way to provide oxygen in addition to what is naturally mixed in the water or included in the air inside the MDA minilab with the MDA design and the allowed materials list. Instead, you may want to take the possibility that most, if not all, organisms used in the experiment may perish during flight into account in your experiment design. In fact, based on similar experiments flown in the past, it is likely that most aerobic organisms will perish, though some could survive. However, even if the organisms were to perish during the flight, your experiment still will provide valuable data, as long as you make a control experiment using the same equipment on Earth, following the same timeline for execution of the experiment. Since you’re doing the same experiment in microgravity and on Earth, the organisms are likely to die about the same time in both experiments, so any differences in the answer to the question you are investigating are due to the lack (or presence) of gravity, rather than the fact that the organisms died at some point. So, yes, it is good to bear in mind that the worm may perish during the experiment, but it does not mean that it is not a viable and an important experiment, as long as you have a control experiment with which to compare results. This applies to experiments using the Planaria worm (investigating properties such as growth or regeneration before the worm perishes), or brine shrimp (investigating hatching, growth, or consumption of food before the shrimp perish.)

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 Shuttle 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 Space Shuttle for their experiment, just like real scientists write 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 wells?”, “Can I obtain the samples I need?”, “Will the seed germinate in 10 days?” 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 Shuttle is 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 for testing the experiment design and the supplies for the actual experiment to fly aboard the Shuttle are the responsibility of the participating community. Student teams are encouraged to talk with their teachers about contacting their SSEP community leaders to see how they could obtain funding for their experiments. Given that the volumes of samples to be used in the MDA are quite small, the funds required for supplies to test (and eventually fly) the experiments should be quite reasonable.

Q: We have a question about page limit specifications. Are 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.

See the Flight Experiment Proposal Guide (downloadable from the Document Library) for more details on how to prepare your proposal.

Q: We are using live specimens in our experiment. We were wondering what we would put under “special handling requirements” – does this just include the fact that our specimens would require late loading and early unloading? Also, we were wondering if we needed to contact the SSEP in advance to let them know we are using live specimens. We were also wondering if there was some agent that could be added to our solution (such as Ethanol) once it is removed from the shuttle in order to kill and preserve our specimens (so that they could be examined later).
You can include in the special handling requirements any details of your experiment that might deviate from the normal experiment handling procedures outlined on the MDA description page, which contains more information on how the samples will be loaded into and extracted from the MDA, and so form the baseline of experiment handling. We suggest definitely writing in the special handling section that you are using live specimens and so request late loading and early unloading of the samples. As the timeline in the MDA description page states, the MDA samples are expected to be harvested within a day of the Shuttle landing, and they will be either turned over to student team representatives at Kennedy or overnighted to your school via FedEx. That means that you would have the samples at hand within a day or two of the landing, and so it may not be necessary to do anything special to preserve the samples. However, if you have any special requests beyond the timing of the loading and harvesting in mind, be sure to include them in the special handling requirements section, and we’ll work with the experiment teams selected for flight to see how we might be able to accommodate the requests.


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.

Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test

On December 13, 2010, the SSEP Team put up a new Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test page as a means of providing all the basic information student teams need to submit the correct fluids and solids and on time. All the FAQs containing basic information have been removed from the list below, and that information is now on the Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test page. The remaining FAQs below address what are likely circumstances unique to particular teams.

Q: We would like to ship one of our samples directly from the supplier but the rest from our school. Is this acceptable?
That is fine, as long as both packages arrive by the deadline, and they are clearly marked to note for which experiment the samples are intended. Be sure to have the packages as well as the samples inside the packages marked so that ITA will know for which experiment the samples are intended.

Q: Can you tell us where to locate the materials for our experiment?
Unfortunately the SSEP national team cannot give you exact details on where to purchase the samples for your team’s experiment. If you are having a problem locating a particular fluid or solid in time, we suggest doing a Google Scholar search on the fluid or solid, and limiting the search to recent years. The search will likely turn up many scholarly articles, with authors and their affiliations. Contact the lead authors and see if they can assist you in finding a source for the fluid or solid. You can likely find their contact information (phone and email) by doing a Google search on their name and affiliation. The idea is to actively and aggressively engage the national research community to help you find what you are looking for, and in time for submission.

Q: Do we need to be worried about keeping our samples alive?
While you don’t need to be worried about keeping living beings in the samples alive for the sake of the compatibility test, you do want to make sure that the samples are what they are intended to be when they arrive at ITA. That is, if you want to use fish embryos in the experiment, for example, you want to make sure that the samples are still embryos and have not hatched when they’ll arrive at ITA. Remember that whatever you want to put in the experiment that will fly on the Shuttle has to be exactly the same as what you are sending for the compatibility test.

Q: Can we receive the samples we’ll send for the test back afterward?
Bulk of the material will likely be used up during the compatibility test, so there may not be any material left over to send back. However, if the community can provide a very good reason for the sample remains to be sent back, ITA can do this on a case by case basis, but the community must pay for the return shipment costs.

Q: Do we have to mix the samples that will go in the wells before sending the samples for the test? For example, if I want to have two liquids in one well, is it acceptable to send one liquid in one vial, the other liquid in another, and the contents of the two vials are combined when the test is conducted?
You must provide the contents of each of your wells premixed in one vial exactly as you want them included. So, you cannot send two fluids that will go into one well in two separate vials. Each vial of samples you’ll send to ITA must correspond to a single well, so you can only send one vial if your experiment uses a Type 1 well, and only two vials if your experiment uses a Type 2-Prime well.
This is new information provided by ITA on December 14, 2010.

Q: We would like to send one source of bacteria (pellets from a commercial company) to the compatibility test and another kind (bacteria grown in culture in our laboratory) for the actual flight. Is this allowed?
No: the samples provided for the compatibility test must be exactly the same as the samples that will fly. Otherwise it would not be an accurate test of the experiment that will fly.

Q: When we’re preparing materials for the compatibility test, we found out that it would be useful to place the samples inside a capsule that would then be placed in the MDA. Is this allowed?
Unfortunately no new materials can be added to an experiment at this point. This means that the samples cannot be placed in a capsule which then would be placed inside the MDA, given that the capsule would be a new material for your experiment. However, if you merely want to place your samples into a capsule to transport the materials from your laboratory to ITA for loading, but the actual samples will be extracted from the capsule and placed in the MDA, that is fine.

Q: Can we send a sample that has a higher concentration than what was included in our original samples list?
For the compatibility test only it is acceptable to send a sample with a higher concentration than what was listed in your final samples list submitted to the formal flight safety review. However, this applies only to the test. Remember that you cannot increase concentrations of any samples in your final experiment at this point, and the final list approved by NASA toxicology will set the maximum concentrations for the samples that are allowed to fly on STS-134.

Q: What if our proposal included an item that we have determined to not be beneficial to the experiment, and we no longer want to use, does that item have to be sent for the test anyway?
No. If you find that you want to reduce the concentration of a sample in your experiment after the samples list was submitted to the formal flight safety review, you can do that until a month before launch (see the Critical Timeline.) In fact, you can reduce the concentration of a sample all the way down to zero, which means that you are removing the sample from your experiment. You can make this change both before and after the fluid/sample compatibility test, but keep in mind that if you make this change before the test, the revision of your samples list is permanent: the samples cannot be brought back or concentrations raised back to the original values after the test. To remove or reduce the concentration of a sample, the Teacher Facilitator of the experiment team can send SSEP a formal request as an email that includes:
• The name of your experiment
• The requested change
• The revised description of your samples list (per well)

Q: Can we switch a sample from one well to another before the test?
Yes, as long as the switch does not have an adverse effect on the fluid concentration in either well.

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.

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.