If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’ – Henry Ford
A letter bearing good news recently reached the offices of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation with the subject line of “CASIS RFP 2014-2, ‘Enabling Technology.’”
Dear Mr. Clements: The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (‘CASIS’) is pleased to inform you that your proposal, entitled “MultiLab: Research Server on the ISS…” has been selected for award.
The award is for enabling technology on the International Space Station, technology that will make micro-gravity research easier for life sciences researchers.
You might be surprised to know that a Kentucky-built experimental platform is already on the International Space Station. Designed to help experimenters do work inside the ISS, this platform provides a common power bus and can accommodate up to sixteen projects at any one time, each the size of a Kleenex box.
Kentucky Space and its for-profit spin-off, Space Tango, though, have been working on an even better platform that will exploit the ongoing trend toward miniaturization so that biological and life sciences researchers can explore open questions in their fields. Experimenters already know that genes and cells behave differently in the absence of gravity. Kris Kimel, President of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, said earlier this week at IdeaFestival-Aerospace in Morehead, Kentucky, that the environment for applied life science, or “exomedicine,” could be compared to walking into a tropical forest. It’s an apt metaphor. As some of the most diverse biospheres and resource-rich places on Earth, pharmaceutical companies have found that these forests teem with potential therapies for disease. There are undoubtedly discoveries yet to be made.
Kentucky, Kimel added, could be the leader the exomedicine because it is simultaneously creating and serving this new market, not playing catch up against well established competitors in an existing industry. Armed with some forward thinking, ready access to low Earth orbit thanks to an existing agreement with NASA and a growing pool of physical and intellectual infrastructure, Kentucky is well positioned to lead in this marketplace.
How did this happen? There is no catalog of best practices for doing life science in orbit, no widely recognized rules and guidelines. That’s the bad news. The good news? There is no catalog of best practices for doing life science in orbit, no widely recognized rules and guidelines. Faced with the realization that experimenters can now control for one of the four fundamental physical forces in the universe, gravity, Space Tango applied a liberal dose of imagination and engineering know-how long before CASIS pleasantly surprised it last week. It asked itself a series of questions: what research has been done? How can this research be done faster? How can it be done more cheaply? Who might be interested?
Months ago Space Tango asked, “what if the next medical breakthrough doesn’t happen on Earth? It partnered with Tufts University to fly a regenerative medicine experiment earlier this year.
The rest of subject line of “CASIS RFP 2014-2, ‘Enabling Technology,’” merely confirmed that Space Tango and its parent company, the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, had been asking the right questions all along. It read as follows: “To Support Science in Space For Life On Earth”
The lesson for innovators is that the best way to lead a market is to create the market.
By the way, Morehead State University announced March 31 that it had been asked to build a spacecraft to prospect for water ice on the moon. The size of two loaves of bread bagged side-by-side, this kind of modular spacecraft has become a specialty of the university, which has ample testing facilities to develop and build some of the world’s most sophisticated (and small) space-faring robots. As planned, the craft will orbit only 62 miles above the lunar surface, allowing the team to make systematic measurements of water. By characterizing the available water ice, future surface explorers will not only have access to the universal solvent, but, by splitting the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water ice, will be able to generate rocket fuel for further exploration. Launch of Lunar IceCube is expected in 2017 on NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V.
“Flown equipment” documentation for an early Kentucky Space micro-gravity experiment
Transfer of ExoMed-3
payload to cold bags prior to Earth return in February. Image courtesy of NASA