By Manny Gonzales
As long as the weather cooperates, the shuttle Columbia will launch into space from Florida Thursday as scheduled, carrying a bit of Central Texas with it.
Onboard the shuttle is a scientific experiment from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. It’s the first of its kind.
This experiment could change the future of space travel, possibly allowing astronauts to stay in space longer. It could also impact the treatment of diseases here on Earth.
Two microbiology students from Southwest Texas State University and their professor are on their way to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Columbia will carry their science experiment on this week’s launch into space.
Three types of bacteria, including e-coli, will interact in an anti-gravity environment. They want to see if the bacteria combination can work as a water filter when water is limited as it is on these missions.
In other words, wastewater treatment.
“That water that they use and then get rid of has to be recycled and reused,” said Southwest Texas State professor Bob McLean. “If those organisms work well up there, we can have a very safe, long-lasting space mission.”
It’s a dream come true for the professor and his students to have their experiment aboard the shuttle.
“You’re doing it for NASA,” said Shanika Glenn, a microbiology student at Southwest Texas State. “And then I love the field of microbiology so it was altogether intriguing.”
“When I was a kid, I used to get up to watch Apollo missions,” McLean said. “This will be the first time I’ve ever had a chance to watch one take-off. The fact that it has some stuff I’ve been involved with is really exciting.”
Professor McLean will pick up the science experiment when the shuttle returns to Earth in February. Once he brings it back to the university, they’ll evaluate the results. Besides water treatment, they also hope to get closer to cures for some diseases.