Researchers work on Brazil’s first space mission

Satellite expected to be launched in 2020

05/01/2017 - 14h51

Photo: Nasa/JPL

PUCRS researchers have joined Brazil’s first space mission in the orbit of the Moon. A group from the Microgravity Center (MicroG) intends to assess the effect of low gravity, lunar radiation and magnetosphere in the culture of human cells. Hence, cell samples will be stored into a nanosatellite (small unmanned satellite), which will travel around the Moon for six months. The mission named Garatéa, meaning “life seeker” in the tupi-guarani language, also includes researchers from the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe)National Synchroton Light Laboratory (LNLS),  Technological institute of Aeronautics (ITA),  Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and Instituto Mauá de Tecnologia. The mission is expected to take off in 2020.

These unprecedented studies might become a major breakthrough in space research. For the first time, human cells will be sent to the orbit of the moon, so that researchers can understand their behavior in terms of proliferation, survival and genetic alterations in the outer space. These samples will be monitored remotely and the data collected will compared to similar materials to be filed at PUCRS. “We want to know how the body reacts to microgravity and radiation for future expeditions to Mars or to the Moon and think up preventive alternative for health and survival. We speculate that the combination of factors will be harmful for the cells, but we’re still not sure”, claims Thais Russomano, MicroG’s coordinator.

For professor Marlise Araújo dos Santos, coordinator of MicroG’s Joan Vernikos Airpace Pharmacy Laboratory, to which the research is directly related and where many of the analyses are carried out, the opportunity to join the mission is the recognition for the researchers’ 17 years of work at the University’s Research Center. Five PUCRS professionals in the areas of Physiology, Pharmacy and Engineering will be initially involved in the project. According to Marlise, the experiment and the selection of cells to be studied are still under analysis for they depend on the technical expertise available at the site where the material will be stored.

The Brazilian satellite will be sent to space along with a group of six other satellites from different countries in a space shuttle, with the support from the European Space Agency (ESA) and  the UK Space Agency. The mission has been planned since 2013 and will be made possible from a public-private partnership. In addition to PUCRS’ experiments, other Brazilian teams will capture images from the Moon using cameras and will be sending colonies of microorganisms (known as extremophiles) so that they can analyze their behavior in a cosmic environment. “Joining the first Brazilian mission has propelled us to a new level of internationalization because it can provide our researchers with new opportunities and partnerships for projects, including the strengthening of our relationship with space agencies”, claims Thais.