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A GeneBox in space

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read

NASA is packing the boxes, or rather the GeneBox, for a new era of space tourism.

The space agency sent up a so-called GeneBox, a micro-lab, with Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis I last week, piggybaggying a ride on the commercial spaceflight test.

The Genebox is about the size of a shoebox and is attached to the internal structure of Bigelow's 14-foot inflatable spacecraft, which the company launched from Russia as a demonstration of an affordable human space complex it hopes to launch by 2015. NASA's GeneBox contains a miniature laboratory of sensors and optical systems that can detect proteins and specific genetic activity. In two weeks, the Bigelow ground control station in Las Vegas, Nev., will activate the GeneBox, and once its tests are complete, data from GeneBox will be relayed to the ground for analysis.

According to NASA, GeneBox will analyze how the near weightlessness of space affects genes in microscopic cells and other small life forms. "During this mission, we are verifying this new, small spacecraft's systems and our procedures," John Hines, the GeneBox project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, said in a statement. "GeneBox is an example of a low-cost spacecraft model that we hope will provide a short turn-around time for scientists, is responsive to their needs and that we feel will contribute to the Vision for Space Exploration," NASA's roadmap for space travel.

If all goes well, NASA plans to build out the micro-labs to tiny satellites. That way, it can conduct research fairly inexpensively on effects to humans' immune systems while in space, Hines said.