A KU Medical Center researcher will send sea urchin sperm to space to study the effects of weightlessness on reproduction.
The movie "Apollo 13" is said to have renewed public interest in the U.S. space program, but for at least one Kansas University Medical Center researcher, thoughts of space are all in a day's work.
Joseph Tash, an associate professor of physiology, is now at work developing an experiment to assess the effects of weightlessness on sperm movement.
The experiment is scheduled to fly aboard one and possibly two space shuttle missions in December 1996 or the winter of 1997.
The experiments will use the sperm of purple sea urchins to examine the chemical signals required to get the sperm tails to move. It's a chemical interaction crucial to successful fertilization of eggs and the focus of Tash's research for more than 20 years.
But the space experiment marks a minor shift of focus for Tash. He's never studied sperm motility in a low gravity atmosphere.
"Now I'm a real rocket scientist," said Tash, who comes from a family long fascinated with airplanes and flight.
NASA is funding the experiment because the space agency is interested in long-distance human space flight and how that might alter reproduction.
Tash won't be heading to space himself. The sea urchin sperm, which are controlled by enzymes and chemicals virtually identical to those that control all sperm, will go up in a compact space laboratory called Biorack developed by the European Space Agency.
Space shuttle scientists will perform the experiments in space, and Tash will duplicate the experiments within hours at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
He'll duplicate any shuttle experiment glitches, like power fluctuations, in an effort to focus on the sperm movement changes caused by the difference in gravity.
An earlier shuttle experiment showed that cow sperm movement was faster in space than on Earth.
Tash is still negotiating with NASA for funding, but expects to receive grants of up to $150,000 a year for several years to pay for the project.