Sue the T. rex has waited 67 million years to blast into space, so what’s a few more days at this point?
NASA officials have scrubbed today’s launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9, which is slated to carry microbes collected from the Field Museum’s famed dinosaur skeleton as part of a scientific effort known as Project Merccuri. The flight – which was headed to the International Space Station – was scrubbed because of a helium leak on the rocket’s first stage, the agency said.
The launch has been rescheduled for Friday afternoon, if the problem can be fixed in time.
NASA officials scrubbed the flight last month because of damage to radar tracking equipment. They also considered scrapping today’s scheduled launch over the weekend after a backup computer on the space station malfunctioned.
In addition to Sue’s microbes, the capsule will carry nearly 5,000 pounds of scientific experiments and supplies to the space station.
Project Mercurri will study how 48 microorganisms from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those already found on the space station. The research, which involved thousands of people nationwide, was spearheaded by an organization called the Science Cheerleader, a group of current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are pursuing science and technology careers.
The group specifically requested Sue’s participation in the study, prompting a Field Museum paleontologist to swab the surface of her bones. The dinosaur’s microbes were then examined at the University of California-Davis, where scientists determined the skeleton had traces of paenibacillus mucilaginous – a widely used agriculture fertilizer – on it.
Other microbes headed to space include swabs taken from the various sports stadiums, the Liberty Bell, the Benjamin Franklin statue in Philadelphia and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
By understanding how these microbes behave in microgravity, scientists can better plan for long-term, manned space flights, researchers said.
The public can follow the project via the website SpaceMicrobes.org, which will include updates on the space station research and the results of a playoff-style microbial growth competition there.
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