Earthrise Space, Inc. and University of Florida Complete Successful High-Speed Taxi Test For the DART Project at Kennedy Space Center, FL

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. (June 13, 2013) – Earthrise Space Inc. (ESI) announced today their joint DART (Dust Altitude Recovery Technology) program with Univ. of Florida scientists has passed a critical testing phase by completing a high-speed taxi run at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility. The DART system is designed to collect atmospheric dust and airborne microorganisms up to 45,000 ft.  Its primary mission will be to collect African dust transported to Florida each year in large-scale dust storm events.

Attached to the underside of an F-104 Starfighter jet, the DART dust collection pod was subjected to G-forces and wind resistance similar to those which it will experience during its eventual flight into the upper troposphere. The DART project is funded by grants from the Florida Space Grant Consortium and the Florida Space Institute.

“The high speed taxi test allowed us to verify our aerodynamic models and mechanical interface,” said Joseph Palaia, ESI’s Chief Operating Officer and Co-Investigator on the project. “With this critical data, we can continue to move the design and construction forward and prepare for our first test flight on the F104 this summer.”

DART’s purpose is to collect dust from the upper troposphere over Florida and bring it back for microbial study. Common household dust is easy enough to sweep away, but dust located at high altitudes is nothing to sneeze at. Recent studies have revealed the surprising rate at which microorganisms, including some plant and human pathogens, are able to survive in the low oxygen, low-pressure, and extreme desiccating conditions of the upper troposphere. This is of special interest to Florida due to the presence of a largely under-studied influx of African dust each year to the Sunshine state.

“The surprising reality is that approximately 50 million metric tons of African dust is deposited over Florida each year,” said Andrew Schuerger, plant pathologist and primary investigator from the University of Florida. “In some studies, nearly 25% of all recovered microorganisms from African dust plumes have been identified as possible plant, human, or animal pathogens, but yet very little is known about whether these microbes actually cause harm to plant or human populations in Florida.”  The DART program intends to find out.

In addition, the African dust plumes have been observed over the Kennedy Space Center, FL, and as such may contribute to the microbial diversity found on spacecraft prior to launch. Thus, characterizing the species diversity and abundance of microorganisms in African dust plumes is likely to help mitigate the microbial contamination of future spacecraft, especially those vehicles that are targeted for Mars missions.  By coming to a better understanding of the microbial composition over the Kennedy Space Center during payload processing operations, scientists will be able to more readily identify potential spacecraft contaminants that might be transported to other planetary bodies. A concurrent benefit of the DART program is that, since the intensely cold and dry conditions that exist in the upper troposphere are similar to ground conditions on Mars, studying the resilience of microorganisms living in this environment on Earth will lead to a better understanding of how the same conditions on Mars might be able to support microbial life. 

About Earthrise Space, Inc.

Earthrise Space, Inc. (ESI) is a Florida-based 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to developing space technology in collaboration with industry and academic institutions. ESI's is creating a key set of lunar spacecraft infrastructure which will provide a platform for the delivery of commercial payloads to the lunar surface. All ESI efforts involve significant numbers of students and young professionals through paid internships, providing them with hands on experience building real spacecraft, and preparing them for future employment in the entrepreneurial space industry.  For more information, please visit: www.omegaenvoy.org.

About Dr. Andrew C. Schuerger

Andrew Schuerger is a plant pathologist and astrobiologist working at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  As a plant pathologist, Schuerger is working to better understand the impacts of trans-oceanic African plant pathogens on agriculture crops in Florida.  As an astrobiologist, he is studying ways to mitigate the possible forward contamination of Mars by spacecraft microorganisms, and he is exploring how terrestrial microorganisms might survive, grow, and evolve on the Martian surface.  Both programs are closely aligned in that atmospheric dusts are pathways that may impact both agriculture crops in Florida and spacecraft bioloads with undesirable microorganisms.


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