Columbia Space Initiative Selected to Send Payload to Space Station

Student club one of five U.S. teams participating in NASA’s STEM on Station initiative

Jan 12 2021 | By Jane Sims

Columbia Engineering is proud to announce that the Columbia Space Initiative (CSI) student club will send a payload to the International Space Station (ISS) this year, as one of five teams selected nationwide to participate in the NASA STEM on Station initiative.

In celebration of 20 years of continuous human presence on the ISS, NASA STEM on Station is sending five student experiments to the space station through Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS). Each of the payloads will focus on bacteria resistance or sustainability research.

CSI’s project, Characterizing Antibiotic Resistance in Microgravity Environments (CARMEn), seeks to discover the impact of mutations on bacteria in microgravity when grown into a biofilm with fungus. The team hopes that studying how different microorganisms interact with each other to develop bacterial resistance in space will help improve antibiotic treatments for astronauts of the Artemis program, NASA’s initiative to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

CSI’s payload will remain on the space station for approximately 30 days without interaction or observation from the station crew. In addition to funding flight and return of the payload, STEM on Station will also provide up to $20,000 to be used toward equipment or supplies to build the experiment and perform outreach.

The team hopes that studying how different microorganisms interact with each other to develop bacterial resistance in space will help improve antibiotic treatments for astronauts.

Along with their fellow teams, CSI will involve K-12 students as citizen scientists as part of their experiment, offering these students an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to real-world research by potentially providing baseline data, sorting data, or comparing ground data to experimental data from the space station. Teams are also expected to conduct educational outreach to engage communities in their work.

Founded in 2015, CSI is a student space technology and outreach club housed within Columbia’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. It serves as an umbrella organization for mission teams involved in everything from nanosatellite mechanical design to hosting space policy forums. Mostly comprised of undergraduate engineering students, the club also includes members from astronomy, physics, astrophysics, neuroscience and philosophy; it is advised by Prof. Michael Massimino (mechanical engineering) Prof. Ioannis Kymissis (electrical engineering) and Senior Lecturer David Vallancourt (also electrical engineering).

Thrilled with the opportunity to benefit humanity with their research endeavor, the highly interdisciplinary CSI team considers the SPOCS project the perfect opportunity to fuse biology, engineering, and education into a meaningful team project. Asked what science fiction character best represents their team and why, CSI responded, “Our team is definitely Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, because we strive to reach infinity (or at least the International Space Station) and beyond!”