Experiments using brine shrimp, gypsy moth eggs, female American dog ticks, radish seeds, crystals, human tissue, lasers and paintings are scheduled to travel on the space shuttle this week along with the six astronauts and a member of Congress. The sponsors are not the usual array of scientists but, instead, include high school students from Houston, an artist from New York, a hospital in Milwaukee and the Department of Agriculture.
All are part of NASA's three-year-old "Getaway Special" program which, for a comparatively modest fee, allows members of the public a chance to have their scientific experiments carried out in space. The flight will include 13 of these Getaway Special (GAS) payloads, a record number for any flight, making it the most participatory shuttle voyage yet. Some 400 additional GAS applications are on file with NASA.
The experimenters provide NASA with "small self-contained payloads" packed inside barrel-sized canisters. For fees ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, the space agency attaches them to the shuttle's cargo bay and exposes them to the vacuum of space.
"This is an exceptional learning opportunity for our kids," said F.D. Welsey, principal of Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Houston, which helped put together the brine shrimp experiment and a second project involving an air bubble. A camera will record brine shrimp eggs hatching in weightless conditions, an experiment the school hopes will provide data helpful in generating food supplies for long-term space missions. The behavior of the air bubble in heated water will also be filmed to help develop techniques for producing pure glass, free of contaminants found on earth.
Students at the school, working with others from the nearby High School for Engineering Professions, developed the experiments over a two-year period in a special class.
The project has generated widespread interest in Houston, and members of the school board as well as students and teachers were planning to fly to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch.
Howard Wishnow and his partner, New York artist Ellery Kurtz, will send up art materials, including four of Kurtz's paintings, to test the effects of space on them.
The two have a company, Vertical Horizons, and this is the first step in a much larger project they hope may someday include outer space storage of artifacts that deteriorate at a faster rate on earth. "NASA is in its infancy and this is the best time for new, strange and interesting ideas," Wishnow said, noting that "when I was a child I was interested in building rockets and spaceships."
Anyone in the "free world" who has an experiment that is scientific, safe, nonprofit and noncommemorative may participate in the program, as long as the fee is paid.
"Some people expect to dance with an astronaut's wife for that price," said GAS project manager Clark Prouty. GAS is not a profit-making project for NASA, and the fee covers only the costs for the canister, supplied by NASA, and use of the instruments that monitor the activity inside.
NASA supplies the equipment to maintain an experiment. The astronauts are only required to turn the experiment "on" or "off" with a hand-held payload controller that looks like a large pocket calculator.
Special "extras" can be bought for an experiment. For example, if a participant wants his experiment exposed to open space, rather than just confined inside the sealed canister, an additional $7,000 will provide a door that will open and close at the touch of a button. GAS can also launch a satellite the size of a beach ball from the $10,000 canister for a $15,000 ejection fee.
All other expenses, such as travel to Cape Canaveral, must be borne by the GAS participants. The bill can be hefty, and most project sponsors supplement their payments by soliciting donations from businesses. What makes this week's trip unique is the fact that so many payloads are going up at once as part of the GAS program, thanks to the addition of a "bridge" spanning the tail end of the cargo bay to which 12 canisters will be attached, six on each side. A 13th canister will be attached the "old way" to an adapter beam next to the bridge.
JULIE, Joint Utilization of Laser Integrated Experiments, was the brainchild of Myron C. Muckerheide, director of laser program services at St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee. Two-and-one-half years ago he thought of sending laser-related experiments into space to observe the effects of weightlessness and cosmic radiation. On this flight, he will use lasers on human tissue and study their effects on detection and treatment of tumors.
Experiments are put up on a first-come-first-serve basis when there is room on the shuttle, which means they may sit on the ground for months before going up. When there is an available mission, NASA gives the word to Prouty who quickly prepares the canisters. Often, this occurs at the last minute.
Experiments are chosen on the basis of their scientific value and purposefulness. Commemorative schemes are frowned upon, so Prouty warns not to try and send up the family photo or a flag along with an experiment.
Other experiment sponsors this month will include General Electric, The National Research Council of Canada, the United States Air Force Academy's Department of Astronautics, Pennsylvania State University, All Tech Associates Inc. and Alabama Space and Rocket Center.