Scientific News

Imagine a plant you can grow in the barren oil fields of West Texas that when you process its berries, jet fuel worth billions of dollars comes out. And that crop is there because of America’s space program.

That’s what Richard Godwin and his Florida-based company, Zero Gravity Solutions Inc. (ZGSI), are hoping to make possible. The company, which just went public, is using space-based genetic research to modify a tropical plant called jatropha curcas to grow in the cooler environment of West Texas. The plant’s berries could produce up to five to six tons of fuel per hectare.

The key to the project has been experiments conducted on a series of space shuttle flights using a technique called “directed gene expression”. When plants are exposed to a microgravity environment, they perceive a threat and go into a survival mode. In the process, they activate genes that are normally dormant in a 1 gravity environment, Godwin said last week during the NewSpace 2013 conference in San Jose, Calif.

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Private spaceflights aren't just for well-heeled tourists. The nascent commercial space industry is poised to revolutionize research as well.

One of the most vexing problems in space research is that so little has changed in 50 years about the way we get to space. Consequently, space access remains both expensive and rare. It has still not reached the stage where scientists can themselves routinely travel there to conduct research, unlike oceanographers, who routinely reach the deep ocean, or geophysicists, who venture to the poles.

All this is poised to change. The advent of for-profit commercial spaceflight—most recently highlighted by the successful launches of the Dragon space cargo capsule, built and operated by SpaceX, to the International Space Station (ISS)—will likely transform space research. Scientists will enjoy lower launch costs, far more frequent access to space and the opportunity to personally run their experiments in orbit. These advances will not only help the big space research enterprises at NASA and the Japanese and the European space agencies, they will also probably make space access affordable to a broad, global base of nations, academic institutions and corporations.

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RELEASE : 13-033

NASA Solicits Ideas for International Space Station Research.

WASHINGTON -- NASA wants to know how you can improve the International Space Station as a technology test bed.

NASA's International Space Station National Laboratory and Technology Demonstration offices are asking for proposals on how the space station may be used to develop advanced or improved exploration technologies. NASA also is seeking proposals about how new approaches, technologies and capabilities could improve the unique laboratory environment of the orbiting outpost.

The NASA Research Announcement, "Soliciting Proposals for Exploration Technology Demonstration and National Lab Utilization Enhancements," may be viewed at:

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NASA’s top human spaceflight manager says the International Space Station holds the key to a shift from government to commercial access to low Earth orbit, driving the nascent market for new human-rated vehicles as researchers find industrial uses for its microgravity environment.

Speaking to the annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the station already provides a significant launch market that can only grow as the orbiting lab is better utilized.

In 2012 the ISS was the destination of 15% of the total number of space launches worldwide. If the field is narrowed to the 17 comparable launches of spacecraft to low or geostationary transfer orbits, the 12 flights to the station represent a major new source of revenue, he said. And it is a new type of market, in that launch vehicle reliability for cargo isn’t as crucial as for expensive satellites.

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Experiment Overview

This content was provided by Neil C. Talbot, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Brief Summary
National Lab Pathfinder - Cells (NLP-Cells) comprises two experiments conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). One experiment will assesses the effects of space flight on cellular replication and differentiation in cattle cells. The other experiment examines the effects of space flight on the normal differentiation and function of liver cells and bile duct (opens into the small intestine from the liver) epithelium (lining).

Principal Investigator(s)

Neil C. Talbot, Ph.D., Agricultural Research Services, United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD, United States


John Wayne Kennedy, Zero Gravity Inc, Stevensville, MD, United States

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Cassandra is obviously not the only forecaster, and sadly on occasion this particular modern-day soothsayer fails to match the infallibility of his classical forebear. I say this because the England cricket team, despite my dire predictions of disappointment, has today handsomely defeated India in Mumbai. So, it is in a spirit of humility that I offer these predictions for 2013 from alternative (I am loth to say rival) forecasters, Professor Thomas Malnight of the IMD business school in Lausanne and his colleague Tracey Keys of Strategy Dynamics Global.

Looking down their ten trends, I find myself general in agreement (though I'm not as pessimistic as they are in number 7, and we have to bear in mind that a lot of what they say is more relevant to the years well beyond 2013). And quite what they mean by the "ownerless economy" in number 2 is a bit of a mystery…Still, well worth pondering, and well worth looking at the Globaltrends website.

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Contact Information

Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc.
190 NW Spanish River Blvd.
Boca Raton, FL 33431

Telephone: +1 561-416-0400
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.