Sunday, January 08, 2006

Worms Survived Columbia Explosion

"When Columbia broke up the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, the nematode canisters hurtled at more than 1,000 km/h and hit the ground with an impact 2,295 times the force of Earth's gravity."

Tiny nematode worms in aluminum canisters aboard the space shuttle Columbia fell up to 40 kilometres when the orbiter blew up but were recovered alive in Texas. The survival of the nematodes, each one about as big as the comma on a sheet of newsprint, suggests ways in which simple life forms might endure traumatic interplanetary journeys, the researchers said.

The report, in a paper published last week in the journal Astrobiology, said six coffee-can-size canisters of nematodes were on board Columbia to monitor muscular atrophy during spaceflight. NASA astrobiologist Catharine Conley said nematodes are useful in studying how prolonged spaceflight can affect the aging process in humans as well as human tolerance for cosmic ray exposure and muscular deterioration from weightlessness.

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