Lafayette, LA (KPLC) - Dr. Karl Hasenstein with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is leading an experiment that will soon go aboard the International Space Station.
Hasenstein is studying the way plants sense and react to gravity by looking at how directional forces affect their growth in space. The study hopes to discover more about why plant stems grow upward, while their roots grow downward.
"The project will be launched aboard an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA's Space X-3 resupply mission," said the university in a news release. Lift-off has been scheduled for March 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The experiment also will analyze the effect of the magnetic pressure on plant cell membranes and potential gene expression changes.
"The work is important not just for plants: it's important for everything to understand what small effects gravity has on individual cells," Hasenstein said.
Hasenstein will monitor plant growth through a live stream of images while the project is in space. The experiment will return to Earth in mid-April, and an estimated six to eight months of research will follow its return.
The project is a deeply personal one for Hasenstein. He led a similar experiment that was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. He lost more than his work when the shuttle disintegrated in 2003 reentering the Earth's atmosphere.
Through his work, Hasenstein had become friends with the astronauts who perished that day. So, the flight will likely be an emotional one for him.
"Some things stay with you always," he said.