After nearly five decades, NASA will be launching living organisms into deep space. BioSentinel will be orbit the sun to test the effect of radiation on yeast cells.
BioSentinel is a spacecraft about the size of a briefcase, one of 13 such CubeSats that will make its way as part of the Artemis 1 mission.
Artemis 1 is planned for the middle of 2020, making it 47.5 years since NASA last launched any living creatures beyond low-earth orbit. The last mission in 1972 saw astronauts reach the moon as part of a mission lasting less than two weeks.
BioSentinel will be embarking on a 9 to 12 month mission to help us better understand the long term effects of deep-space radiation on DNA and organisms ability to repair DNA.
BioSentinel will weigh in at around 14kg and carry two varieties of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The normal “wild type”, which is quite resistant to radiation.
In addition, it will also carry a mutant version which has been modified to limit its the ability to repair it’s DNA. NASA said in a statement:
“Importantly, yeast’s DNA damage-repair process is highly similar to that of humans, making it a robust translational model. BioSentinel’s results will be critical for interpreting the effects of space radiation exposure, reducing the risk associated with long-term human exploration and validating existing models of the effects of space radiation on living organisms.”
In addition to the yeast that’s being sent to orbit the sun as part of BioSentinel, scientists will also be monitoring S. cerevisiae growth at Ames and Brookhaven Laboratotry in New York, and an identical payload will be sent to the International Space Station which has a microgravity environment and much lower levels of radiation.
These controls will help scientists determine the magnitude of the effects of radiation and microgravity on DNA and DNA repair.