On Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, a rocket and spacecraft were launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia carrying tubes of bacteria and bacteriophage, the viruses that prey on bacteria. They are now on their way to the International Space Station (ISS).

Scientists in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Biochemistry are hoping that by sending them into Earth’s orbit, we can learn more about how microbes respond to being in space. In preparing for a future in which long-term and commercial space travel are possible, researchers say it’s increasingly important to understand how the bacteria in and on humans — many essential for health — function in this environment, says Vatsan Raman, professor of biochemistry.

Using a protocol carefully crafted by the researchers, the astronauts on the ISS will perform a series of simple experiments to test the effects of space conditions on the microbes, such as microgravity and radiation, and on their interactions.

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