Craft Academy students experiment on way to ISS


“This is truly original research that may pave the way for potential drug development later down the road.”

Dr. Michael Fultz, MSU biology professor and health researcher

MOREHEAD A biology experiment spearheaded by two Craft Academy students at Morehead State University is en route to the International Space Station.

From the same launch pad that propelled the first moonwalkers in 1969, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off for orbit Sunday morning — inside, 5,500 pounds of resupply cargo and an experiment that began in a biology classroom at MSU.

“The International Space Station introduces a really new and exciting platform for us to use for biology research in microgravity,” said Danielle Gibson, a student enrolled in the academy.

She and Will Casto are seniors in the program, which allows select high school students to take college courses full time. Their undertaking, involving the effect of microgravity conditions on smooth muscle cells, could give health researchers a better understanding of issues that have a big impact on Kentucky and the Appalachian region.

“Smooth muscle lines are arteries and veins, so it plays an important role in conditions such as hypertension, and as we all know here in eastern Kentucky, hypertension is a very prevalent issue facing Appalachia and its people,” Gibson explained.

Both students attended Sunday’s launch in Florida.

According to a 2015 report from the United Health Foundation, hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, plagues 40.3 percent of males and 37.9 percent of females in Kentucky.

“The better we understand the contraction and the contractile mechanisms, the better we can manipulate it and control it hopefully for the benefit of not only Kentuckians, but for people across the globe,” Casto said.

The students started the project about a year ago with Dr. Michael Fultz, biology professor and health researcher at MSU.

“This is truly original research that may pave the way for potential drug development later down the road,” Fultz said.

Jennifer Carter, assistant director of academic services for Craft Academy, connected the trio with Space Tango, a Lexington-based research institute that designed and engineered the containment vessel for the experiment.

“(It was) a couple of students taking the initiative with a professor and then coming to me and asking how they could make their research work, and I said ‘Let’s put it in space,’” Carter said.

The rocket launched at 9:39 a.m. from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was scheduled for a 10:01 a.m. takeoff on Saturday, but was delayed because of launch concerns. It is expected to reach the ISS Wednesday.

JACOB LINDBERG is a Morehead State convergent media student and staff reporter for the Trail Blazer

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