the first african in space
the crew

Potential impact of the study:

  • Stem (primitive) cell research as replacement therapy for diseased and damaged body cells holds the key to the cure or alleviation of conditions like spinal cord and brain damage, diabetes, genetic diseases, cancer, damaged heart cells and many others.  Stem cells, as the most primitive and undifferentiated of all the body cells, have the ability, under certain conditions, to develop to any other body cell.  Stem cells can therefore play a major role in preventative and curative health programs for future generations, because they can replace damaged body cells. Finding optimal conditions for the culture and development of stem cells will therefore become increasingly more important.  If zero gravity proofs to be beneficial to the development of stem cells, micro-gravity conditions for stem cell growth and differentiation can be established.  This can also put South Africa on the forefront of stem cell research in the world today.

  • The ESCD project also deal with the development of animal embryos from a very early stage until after hatching of the embryo from its zona pellucida (surrounding capsule) in vitro (in an incubator).  As space programs progress, we might get to the point where human fertilization takes place under zero gravity conditions, or after conception on earth, early embryonic development will take place in space.  This project will give us a very good insight in early embryonic development under conditions of zero gravity.  Will it speed up or slow down development?  Will it be detrimental to cell growth?  Will it supply answers to the large offspring syndrome (LOS) found in cloned animals, where the embryo is also cultured for seven days before transfer to a surrogate that will carry it to term?

  • We see the opportunity of the space research project as the ideal opportunity to conduct experiments that might give us answers to embryonic developmental problems in animals and man.  Can zero gravity conditions possibly be the answer for embryonic (during development in the uterus) and congenital (at birth) aberrations found in mammals?  The development of the embryo and fetus under conditions of zero gravity (compared to lowered gravity in the uterus) might give us answers to fetal developmental problems that influence so many newborn children and families in South Africa.  By following embryonic and fetal development under conditions of micro/zero gravity, we might be able to explain why certain congenital abnormalities develop during the growth of the fetus in the uterus.

  • It might also play a role in the existence of endangered species.  If somatic (body) and stem (undifferentiated) cells grow better under zero gravity conditions, scarce and valuable body cells from endangered wildlife species can be grown in a culture medium, stored and cloned under micro-gravity conditions in future to ensure the survival of many endangered species in our country.  This can play a crucial role in the eco-tourism industry of South Africa.

  • The project will be crucial for student training.  Conditions of total weightless are impossible to create on earth.  The space program is an unprecedented opportunity to do valuable research under zero gravity condition in a field of extreme importance for the future of the human race on earth.  Regenerative tissue and genetically changed organ transplants will play a big role in future health treatments.  This experiment might supply conditions and solutions to improve our understanding and techniques of stem cell development in the laboratory, information of major importance for further study of our post graduate students.

  • Scientific data of an international standard will be generated from this experiment.  It will be published in a scientific journal of repute. It will also place the University of Stellenbosch amongst the leaders in stem cell research in the world today.

Landing Countdown to 05:51 05 May

Landing Complete!

The Team
Mark Shuttleworth
Dale Cupido
Karen Sharwood
Lara Keytel
Danie Barry
Freddy Khan
Vaughan Oosthuizen
Ravi Naidoo
Vuyo Dwane
Richard Mills
Nicolette Cronje
Wayne Derman
Peter Ribton
stemcell research
potential impact
see also
research team
Hot Links
Frequently Asked Questions
Contact Us
Gallery Highlights

Church of Jesus Christ

Zero-G Heart Rate Data

Next-generation Soyuz TMA Cockpit

Mig-25 Afterburners