Washington—In the late 1980s, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invented a way to study cell cultures in space. As a stepping stone toward understanding space biology, they wanted to grow cartilage, muscle, and other tissues to gauge the effects of radiation and microgravity on the body.
A primary challenge was keeping the cells suspended inside the space shuttle laboratory while awaiting launch. Storing them on traditional plates, where they felt the full tug of gravity and stuck to the bottom, defeated the point of hoisting them into space. The solution: placing the cells in a bioreactor, a gently rotating, fluid-filled growth chamber. Variations on this bioreactor theme flew on several space shuttle flights as well as on the Mir space station. The International Space Station is slated to house next-generation bioreactors in a few years.
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