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Surviving Columbia experiments show promise

CNN News (05/07/2003)

By Matt Flores

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — Some scientific experiments that survived the breakup of space shuttle Columbia appear to have some useful data, including one that could lead to anti-cancer drugs, scientists said Tuesday.

Five of nine experiments from a 61/2-inch wide, 11-inch long aluminum hardware device that was found three months ago in the shuttle debris appear to be able to yield data, according to scientists who began opening containers holding shuttle experiments at the Kennedy Space Center.

Scientifically, the most promising experiment of the nine was one developed by NASA investigator Dennis Morrison. The experiment manufactured capsules containing anti-cancer drugs that can be delivered directly to a tumor instead of the whole body.

“ It’s pretty amazing that we've got samples at all,” Morrison said.

Scientists need further examination before they know if the other experiments will yield data too.

The experiments include a biofilm project conceived by a Palestinian biology student and an Israeli medical student in what was known as “the peace experiment.” Another is a tin crystal experiment by a Florida middle school whose students held a spaghetti dinner and donated their pennies to raise the $5,000 needed to pay for their project’s placement on the shuttle.

The hardware device was found in Nacogdoches, Texas, within 24 hours after Columbia disintegrated February 1, but the scientists only got access to it this week.

Columbia’s seven crew members were killed when the shuttle fell apart as it was re-entering the atmosphere.The shuttle contained dozens of scientific experiments, many of them belonging to students.

Other experiments that the scientists are hopeful will yield data include a study of a protein crystal that could be used for developing a drug to fight cancer, a prep school project that studied the effect of zero-gravity on bacteria and a slime mold experiment from Southwest Texas State University.

Palestinian biology student Tariq Adwan and Israeli medical student Yuval Landau were co-investigators of the experiment that tried to determine if organisms can be transported from one planet to another by meteorites. When the students found out that the experiments had survived, they had a whole range of emotions, said Louis Friedman, executive director of The Planetary Society, which sponsored the experiment.

“ Joy, excitement and the remembering that people lost their lives over this,” Friedman said.