Hardware that will help scientists better understand the effects of
microgravity on avian development is set to fly into space later this
week. Launch of the STS-108 mission on space shuttle Endeavour is set
for Nov. 29 from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

The Avian Development Facility (ADF) is designed to support space
experiments that use Japanese quail eggs. The primary objective of
flying the ADF on the upcoming mission is to validate its subsystems
and reduce the risk in developing a possible next generation of avian
development hardware.

“The Avian Development Facility provides optimal incubation
conditions for embryo development during flight,” said Randy
Berthold, Ph.D., ADF project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center
in California’s Silicon Valley. “It also minimizes crew time and
improves the science return by using advanced telerobotics and

Secondary objectives of this flight will be support of two
peer-reviewed experiments that will study how the lack of gravity
affects the development of avian embryos. Stephen Doty, Ph.D., of the
Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, will study the effects
of space flight on embryonic skeletal development. The development
and function of the avian vestibular system will be the focus of a
study by David Dickman, Ph.D., of the Central Institute of the Deaf,
Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.

The ADF is a fully automated avian egg incubator that requires no
crew interaction with the eggs. Avian eggs are ideally suited for
microgravity research because they are self-contained and
self-sustaining. “The ADF provides a snapshot of embryogenesis in
space using the avian embryos as a biological model,” Berthold added.

The ADF will house 36 Japanese quail eggs in egg holders, which are
designed to isolate the eggs from vibration, to minimize any effects
of launch and re-entry on the developing embryos. The egg holders are
mounted on two rotating centrifuges that will provide either exposure
to microgravity or to a gravity force equivalent to that found on

Interior environmental temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and
oxygen concentration can be pre-programmed to provide optimal
incubation conditions for embryo development. The ADF also has an
automated fixative-injection system that can be programmed to fix, or
preserve, the embryos at specific times during incubation. The egg
holder is designed with a secondary containment system to prevent
leaking of injected fixative into the incubator. The ADF rotates the
eggs 180 degrees every hour, similar to turning in a natural
environment. The facility fits into a space shuttle middeck locker

The ADF is one of several research habitats being developed by the
Space Station Biological Research Project (SSBRP) at NASA Ames.
SSBRP is responsible for managing the development of several habitats
that provide life support, environmental control, and monitoring
systems for various research subjects and specimens. The habitats are
being developed to operate with three major host systems: the
variable-gravity, 2.5-meter centrifuge; the microgravity holding
racks; and the Life Sciences Glovebox. In addition, SSBRP will manage
the development of various laboratory equipment items needed for
science operations. More information about the Space Station
Biological Research Project is available at:
http://brp.arc.nasa.gov/ Additional details about Ames’ life
sciences research can be found at: http://lifesci.arc.nasa.gov/

Space Hardware Optimization Technology, Inc. (SHOT), of Greenville,
Ind., developed the ADF for NASA Ames. SHOT’s previous avian
development hardware flew on the space shuttle in 1986 and 1989.
Information about SHOT is available at: http://www.shot.com.

The two ADF experiments are supported by NASA’s Office of Biological
and Physical Research, which promotes basic and applied research to
support human exploration of space and to take advantage of the space
environment as a laboratory. More information is available at:

“The ADF provides a unique opportunity to study fundamental
biological processes in ways that cannot be done here on Earth.” said
SHOT project engineer Rachel Ormsby. “The information collected from
this mission is expected to help Earth-based biotechnology and health
care research leap forward toward cures or treatments that may
otherwise not have been realized.”