(TUCSON, Ariz.) After a four months' sojourn on board the Russian Space Station MIR, two miniature water worlds await their return to Earth. NASA has confirmed that the two miniature ecosystems designed by former Biosphere 2 crew members have been safely transferred from MIR to the American space shuttle Atlantis and are now back from their journey into space.
Their arrival marks the beginning of the final phase of a four month experiment in which the aquatic miniworlds orbited the planet aboard MIR. They now undergo comprehensive tests of the effects of prolonged space flight on the plants, animals and microbes in the ecosystems.
"These sealed ecosystems are the first to have actually been tested in space -- first, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour for two weeks last spring, and now for this more extensive mission on MIR," said Jane Poynter, CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, the company which she and Taber MacCallum founded after completion of their two year mission inside Biosphere 2 in 1993. "Not only did the ecosystems survive the first flight, most of the species actually bred in space and returned with higher population counts than the ground control units."
"The results of this mission, along with continuing study of the Endeavour experiment, will have implications for pharmaceutical research and long term human spaceflight." said Taber MacCallum, Paragon's President.
Called Autonomous Biological Systems (or ABS), the miniature recycling environments house aquatic plants and animals sealed within two transparent Lexan cylinders of water, with an attached fluorescent light. Light causes plants to undergo photosynthesis, thereby releasing oxygen and using carbon dioxide. In return the animals consume oxygen and generate carbon dioxide and nutrients needed by the plants, as occurs in Earth's ecosystems. Duplicate ground-based ABS units are maintained in near-identical lighting and temperature environments to serve as controls for comparison purposes.
BioServe Space Technologies (Boulder, CO)-a NASA Center for Space Commercialization- initiated the project. They approached Paragon with the flight opportunity, and provided payload and mission operations support. The experiment was further developed in conjunction with researchers at the University of Arizona (Tucson) led by Dr. Robert Frye, and a team of Japanese researchers led by Dr. Yoji Ishikawa of Obayashi Corporation (Tokyo).
Replicas of Space Flight Units now Available Commercial replicas of Paragon's ABS flight unit -- complete with aquatic populations which are direct descendants of the animals born in space on the first flight in May, 1996 -- are now available to the general public.
The Space Biosphere Replica to be manufactured by Paragon consists of two separate ecosystems in optically clear acrylic cylinders placed side by side. Each is approximately 7" long and 3.5" in diameter. The cylinders are sealed using O-rings and enclosed in a sleek black, clear and chrome housing that contains a light identical to the spaceflight configuration.
The price of the limited production units will be $500.00. This will include a certificate of authenticity stating the date of closure and the source of the animals, and an owner's manual complete with detailed explanations of the experiment.
"The replicas will be a unique gift item for the home or office," said Cheryl Riggs, Paragon's Marketing Director. "In the classroom they allow children to learn about the scientific process, Earth's biosphere and space experimentation in a fun and relevant way."
Paragon Space Development Corporation is a life system design and research firm located in Tucson, Arizona and providing biological laboratory analysis and commercial product development worldwide. For more information Paragon can be reached at 1-800-TO-ORBIT (1-800-866 7248) or at the Paragon's website: (www.ParagonSDC.com). Other Bio-Sphere products are available from finer catalogs and specialty stores.
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Photos are available upon request.
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