Mayo Clinic stem cell experiment to launch into space

Eleven astronauts are currently aboard the International Space Station. The spacecraft is named after NASA astronaut Dr. Patricia “Patty" Hilliard Robertson. Robertson was killed during a private plane crash in 2001 – a year before she was expected to travel to the International Space Station.

A Mayo Clinic research project focusing on gravity’s role in bone loss will be one of several experiments aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket when it lifts off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station later this month.

The mission is known as NG-20 and is destined to deliver food, supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

The stem cell experiment has been a long time in the planning and researchers say they’ll be able to learn more about tissue repair and regeneration.

"We’ve known for some time that astronauts lose bone density on long-duration space flights," Dr. Abba Zubair, a laboratory medicine and pathology specialist at the Mayo Clinic said in a statement. "We want to understand how this occurs so we can work on solutions that prevent bone loss not only in astronauts while they’re in space but also in patients here on Earth."

Zubair believes the experiment could have implications on clinical trials and travel to Mars.

"We will use what we learn from this project to advance our research on the road to clinical trials, with the ultimate goal of testing therapeutic agents that can prevent or treat bone loss that comes with osteoporosis, as well as bone loss that occurs in patients who are bedridden for long periods of time," Zubair stated.


If weather or technical matters don’t delay the launch, it’ll lift off from Florida’s Space Coast on Jan. 29 with spacecraft named after NASA astronaut Dr. Patricia "Patty" Hilliard Robertson.

Robertson was killed during a private plane crash a year before she was set to arrive at the ISS in 2002.

"It is the company’s tradition to name each Cygnus spacecraft in honor of an individual who has made substantial contributions to human spaceflight. Dr. Robertson was an accomplished medical doctor and avid acrobatic pilot prior to her NASA career," Northrop Grumman, the producer of the Cygnus spacecraft, stated.

A crew of seven aboard the ISS will be tasked with unloading the Cygnus spacecraft a few days after launch.

The mission is Northrop Grumman’s 20th cargo flight to the ISS, which is expected to continue through 2026. 


Other experiments aboard the NG-20 will involve testing a 3D metal printer, semiconductor manufacturing and a thermal protection system.

The Mayo Clinic stated a second space flight could launch by the end of the year, which would analyze bone formation and loss.

The combination of experiments is expected to help researchers study bones’ healing potential and lead to potential treatments that could be used in space and on Earth.