HUMMUS1- The First Step To Dips And Chips In Space
On the 19thApril, SAAS Missions UNSW launched its bacterial experiment, HUMMUS1, on the AIAA UNSW Rocketry team’s self-built rocket during the Australian Universities Rocketry Competition. It has been an idea that now third year biology student, Scarlett Li-Williams, had been working on for the last two and a half years, having had early ideas being constantly tried, tested and even presented previously at the International Astronautical Congress in 2017. However, this rocket launch marked the first milestone for SAAS Missions, a team under the society BioSphere UNSW which Scarlett founded in 2017. The experiment ran in April was a triumph as the rocket successfully launched and the parachute successfully deployed delivering the bacteria safely to the ground ready to be analysed.
HUMMUS1 consists of a bacterial payload of rhizobium in three forms, in peat (a soil like enviornemnt), in petri dishes and in liquid broth. It is a preliminary experiment looking into the survival of rhizobia, specifically used for chickpea plant growth. The experiment compromised of putting these bacteria into a payload into a rocket, with the hope to see the effects of vibrations and g-forces acting upon a population and which growth environment would be best suited to the bacteria. The results of these will then carry forward towards the next mission-HUMMUS2. HUMMUS2 will be an experiment on the International Space Station (to be launched April 2020), to study the effects of lunar and mars conditions on the bacteria and plant populations.
The launch itself was clearly emotional, as described by Scarlett:
The actual moment of the launch was beyond anything I could have imagined, to see the rocket go up followed by the parachute successfully deploying provided waves of indescribable emotions. The last couple years had led up to this initial experiment and the last few months of continuous late nights, endless organisational nightmares and experimental protocols continuously changing and had all come down to that moment.
This project was an interdisciplinary collaboration with multiple companies, universities, societies and faculties, all of whom listed aboveJade Hartley and Ivan Kennedy at the Pulsford Lab at University of Sydney’s Institute of Agriculture contributed the bacterial cultures, medium and mentoring of the experiment itself. In addition to Dr Brendan Burns in BABS UNSW and ACA constantly supported the project throughout since 2017 when Scarlett initially approached him. In addition, the School of BABS and BEES, and the ACA at UNSW generously sponsored and additional donations were made by New Edge Microbials, BioHacking Society UNSW and BioFoundry. All the support made the trip possible.
The next step is now taking what we learnt from the behaviour of the rhizobia aboard the launch of HUMMUS1, write up a report and apply this for the HUMMUS2 launch. In addition, as of last week, HUMMUS2’s next step was announced; with the delivery of a CubeSat being donated to the SAAS student team. This CubeSat is being kindly donated and pre-programmed from a prior biology mission ran by the International Space University in early 2019 on the International Space Station. Things are looking up