Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Science time

Now that we have our samples back on Earth, it is time to get to the real work!

The samples were first thawed and RNA extracted from the T-cells. This step took several days alone to complete. We then ran the RNA on chips in the Agilent Bioanalyzer to determine quality and concentration.

We were all more than a little jittery during this part - imagine messing up and destroying the RNA at this stage of the experiment (AFTER it had flown to and returned from space?!)! Luckily, we had no problems and are now excited to get to the analysis part of the project :).

The next step will be performed by the UCSF Gladstone facility - they will run the RNA on GeneChips that will tell us which genes are expressed in the microgravity samples versus the 1g control samples.

Tara in the process of isolating RNA
Agilent Bioanalyzer machine
 





Thursday, May 22, 2014

T-cells from space!

We are all now back in San Francisco after a successful retrieval of our samples from the Dragon capsule!
After Dragon splashed down on May 18, the boat sent to pick it up encounted very high sea levels. We didn't get our samples back until 5pm on May 20. NASA called us to a private airstrip right next to the Long Beach airport, where we waited for all the payloads and cargo to be brought from the dock. As many of the items were continuing on to Johnson Space Center in Houston, everything was loaded onto the airplane before it could be retrieved.


Millie next to her mission summary, STS-40!

Millie, Emily, and I then boarded the plane, put our samples onto dry ice, and set off for San Francisco.

This morning, we disassembled all the hardware and collected our samples. The hardware will be going back with Kayser Italia (who flew into SF) to Italy until SpaceX-5 preparation begins.

We were also able to view the SpaceX factory (unfortunately no pictures allowed) and the Endeavour shuttle exhibit while in LA.
 
Boarding the charter jet
Thank you Cold Stowage!



SpaceX factory in Hawthorne



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Splashdown - Baja, CA


The Hughes-Fulford Lab is now headed to Long Beach, CA!

Splashdown is projected to occur on May 18. It is approximately 5.5 hours from undocking to splashdown. A boat will go out to sea to pick up the Dragon capsule, where all the samples and payloads will be removed and stored at the appropriate temperatures. The T-cell Activation in Aging samples will be stored in a -80C freezer. The boat then takes a couple of days to return to shore and all samples are transferred to the Long Beach airport. We will pick up our samples directly from the aircraft as many of the other payloads will be flying on to Johnson Space Center in Houston.

We'll bring the samples (still in the Experiment Units) back to our lab in San Francisco. Together with Kayser Italia, who is flying in from Italy, we will disassemble all the hardware and collect the samples in tubes to freeze back. KI will be taking the hardware back to their lab in Italy to prepare for SpaceX-5.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dragon Docking

SpaceX has some beautiful pictures of the Dragon capsule before and after berthing yesterday.  Enjoy!







Ground Controls to Major Rick


T-cell in space!  Astronaut Rick Mastracchio loads our cassettes into the KUBIK centrifuge (photo: NASA)

We've made it to the ISS!  Or at least our samples have.  The Dragon capsule berthing was complete this morning, and T-cell was one of the first payloads unloaded. The cold bag containing our experimental cassettes was handed off to astronaut Rick Mastracchio, who performed the on-board operations. While it would be very neat to have been up there with the samples, we settled (happily) for watching a live stream from the ISS.

All dressed up to do our ground controls.

Speaking of our samples, we had a pretty busy day in lab doing our ground controls.  In addition to the 10 experimental containers sent to the ISS, we filled four additional cassettes on our long isolation day to stay with us on the ground.  This morning, we moved them to a special room that mimics the conditions on-board the ISS.  In full clean-room outfitting - hairnet, gloves, lab coats and booties - we then incubated, activated and fixed our ground samples just like our samples on board (with a two hour delay so we could get the exact time between each step right).

On one of our many plane trips between SF and Florida the last few weeks (they all blend together now) we watched the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which featured a version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." It's been stuck in our head this past week, and seemed very fitting for this post. 

It's crazy to be done with this phase of the experiment -- we've been working towards this for more than a year!  Now all we have to do is wait to get our samples back for analysis and the real science (and fun) will begin. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Up, up, and away!

T-Cell has taken off as of 3:25 EDT this afternoon!  We are excited, relieved, and waiting in anticipation for berthing with the ISS.  It's been a long journey, with delays, a scrub, two all-nighters, and it was beyond words to watch the bright streak of the rocket rise up across the grey sky and disappear into the heavens above.

We have a few days to wait for T-Cell opps onboard.  Until then, we wish safe travels to the Dragon capsule on it's way to the ISS.  And our gratitude to all the support on the ground - from our lab support at KSC to cold stowage to all the teams working like crazy this last week to make the launch possible.  Hurrah to SpaceX for a flawless launch!  Go Dragon!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Charlie Bolden, Head of NASA

SpaceX Falcon 9 on the launch pad
Charlie Bolden, BJ Navarro, Emily, Millie, Tara, Miya
We attended the SpaceX mission briefing and had a chance to meet Charlie Bolden, the current administrator of NASA! He and Millie are old friends.



LC 40

Today we, along with the other payloads and guests, were invited to view the Falcon 9 rocket vertical on the launch pad! We got pretty close on the grass just outside the pad - it was EXTREMELY bright outside..




Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Night Shift

SSPF as we entered tonight


The Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) is the location of our lab.  It is midnight on 4/13/2014 and Tara, Miya, Emily and I have been here since 9:30 PM EST along with our NASA support teams. 


KI hands over hardware to T Cell Team

Handover of the flight hardware from Kayser Italia to the T Cell Team in the laboratory before the start of isolation of the T cells.


LRS sitting in a 50 ml tube

It will be a long night since we are isolating T-cells from the LRS and buffy coat blood bank samples.  We have 10 independent human samples prepared; we use the best 8 for the experiment (n=8). The photo on the left shows a LRS at the start of isolation.  Isolation is finished around 3 AM; we then start loading the samples into flight hardware. 

Experimental Unit holds four independent donor samples
Each experiment unit takes approximately 45 minutes to fill and we will finish approximately at 10AM EST.  That is when Kayser Italia (our ESA hardware maker) begin the leak testing the experiment units. The experimental unit is shown to the right, each cell is filled with T cells from individual donors (n=4) we have two EUs for each condition so the total number of donors is 8 for each gravity condition.

More Pictures of the team:

Starting to process our blood samples
Layering blood over Ficoll to separate out the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs)
Adding media to isolated cells
Counting our cells
Filling the Experimental Units (EUs)