Health and Science – Vaccines from Space: Another Shuttle Legacy

With the space shuttle missions now over for the foreseeable future, many are looking back on the achievements of the program. Aside from advancing our knowledge of our planet, solar system, and universe, the space shuttle missions also gave researchers a unique opportunity to study certain diseases as well.
Biotech firms like Astrogenetix discovered that when they removed gravity from the equation, bacteria is able to grow at a much faster pace. Specifically, they studied the bacteria responsible for the food-borne illness salmonella, and MRSA, the deadly infection that comes from staph bacteria that is largely resistant to the antibiotics normally used to treat staph infections. In the past three years, different batches of the two bacteria were taken up into space a dozen times.
Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that the rapid growth of deadly bacteria inside of a metal box floating around the planet might not be the best idea, or perhaps the safest situation for the astronauts. However, that concern aside, this method of growing bacteria was hugely advantageous. By growing the bacteria at an exceptionally rapid rate, researchers were able to begin to understand how they grow and what specific genes are responsible for their growth and spread. This also allowed them to extract DNA in much larger quantities, which gave even more insight into what makes these things tick. With an increased knowledge of their reproduction, advances in vaccine creation will come at a much faster pace.
Many people, including great minds like Carl Sagan, believed that the space shuttle was largely an unimpressive waste of money and space travel–a very advanced, very expensive space delivery vessel. While it is true that the shuttle was used frequently for re-supply missions and not for exploration, the fact that it helped aid in the understanding of many other things, both on this planet and floating in the infinite ether around it, while it made its delivery runs speaks to the versatility of the missions that took place. They were never for a singular purpose. To say anything less is to marginalize what was accomplished and what can now be accomplished in the future with the knowledge and experience gained from the missions that took place. We may not stand and watch men and women riding explosions into the sky any time soon, but whatever the future may bring in that respect will be due to their efforts.

Comments are closed.