“... for a lot of students there is a disconnect between learning science and making science. Here I am making a tangible impact. I’m part of something that’s bigger than myself.”
Will Casto, Craft Academy participant
BY MIKE JAMES
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
ORLANDO, Fla. The payload Will Casto traveled to Florida to see blasted into space is about half the size of a loaf of bread.
And its most crucial components are too small to see at all without the aid of a microscope.
But Casto and his research partner were prepared to spend Saturday morning in a viewing area overlooking a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center tow atch the blastoff of a rocket bound for the International Space Station. The launch was delayed until Sunday morning at 9:39.
Casto is an 18-year-old high school senior from Russell who is part of the inaugural two-year class of the Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics at Morehead State University.
He and his partner, Danielle Gibson of Germantown, also a Craft student, are studying the behavior of smooth muscle cells which, among other functions, help regulate blood vessels.
Scientists are still working to understand how they contract, and Casto hopes studying their behavior in space will help solve the puzzle.
They are working under MSU associate professor of biology Michael E. Fultz, who trained them to work with the cells.
It’s a research project important in expanding the horizons of biological science and — to Casto — important to the part of Appalachia he calls home.
“This pertains to civic and regional engagement. Hypertension riddles all of eastern Kentucky,” Casto said.
Their contribution to science could also benefit health care in the region, he said.
The rocket lifted off Sunday to resupply the space station. Casto’s experiment is hitching a ride in a CubeLab, which is a package 20 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide and high.
In it are cells the students cultured. Studying them in space can be helpful because it removes the variable of gravity, Casto said. By comparing their findings with previous ground-based work, they can make deductions about their behavior.
The students will be able to see live video of the cell contraction and study data streamed from the CubeLab.
The work will prepare him for college and professional work, said Casto, who plans to study medicine and be an oncologist or researcher. “Also, for a lot of students there is a disconnect between learning science and making science. Here I am making a tangible impact. I’m part of something that’s bigger than myself.”
The technical work on the project was performed by Space Tango, a Lexington aerospace research and engineering company that supplies the CubeLab and prepares it for the launch.