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If You’re Looking to Experiment in Space, Your Ship Is In

An organization with ties to NASA that oversees private research on the International Space Station is raising its profile among the local research community.

The Florida-based Center for the Advancement of Science in Space — called CASIS for short — plans to station a representative in San Diego.

CASIS is sole manager of the U.S. National Laboratory on the International Space Station. Its job is to create interest among entrepreneurs in doing experiments in the orbiting lab. NASA selected CASIS for the job in 2011.

The organization also offers seed money, as well as access to other organizations that can help fund experiments.

Conference Set for Mission Valley

Jana Stoudemire, commercial innovation life sciences lead with CASIS and a former member of San Diego’s biotech community, said in a May 4 interview that she will be working from San Diego soon. Stoudemire spent almost a decade at Advanced Tissue Sciences.

Her current job also has her leading CASIS’ organ bioengineering research and microgravity team.

Separately, NASA, CASIS and the American Astronautical Society have selected Mission Valley as the site of a July conference focused on research and development in the International Space Station — including medical research.

CASIS is building a relationship with CONNECT, say both Stoudermire and CONNECT CEO Greg McKee. CONNECT is the San Diego organization for entrepreneurs and growth companies, which had roots in San Diego’s burgeoning biotech scene in the 1980s.

Experimentation in the “microgravity” of the International Space Station is something that definitely interests life science companies, according to both CASIS representatives and McKee.

“No one has access to the space station in the same way CASIS does,” McKee added.

Not Much Space in Space

CASIS seems to prefer the term microgravity to weightlessness. Weightlessness in space is a misnomer, according to NASA, adding that gravity in the space station is actually 90 percent of that on Earth’s surface. People appear weightless because they are in free fall.

At least one San Diego company has already taken advantage of the chance to do research in microgravity on the International Space Station — but it isn’t a life science firm.

Carlsbad-based Cobra Puma Golf sent an experiment to the space station in 2014.

The experiment looked into how the process of electroplating metal might work in the space station’s unique gravity environment, said Mike Yagley, head of R&D, research, innovation and testing at Cobra Puma. Ultimately, Yagley said, scientists found no difference between the Earth-based and the space-based processes.

Cobra Puma paid tribute to the experiment nevertheless with its King driver that it released in August. The adjustable “SpacePort” feature in the sole of the golf club is reminiscent of the Space Station’s cupola module.

For several decades, Yagley said, he researched issues related to aircraft and missiles. The 53-year-old engineer, who grew up watching Apollo moon launches, said that it was a thrill to finally be part of space research.

Yagley recalled that Cobra Puma did not get a lot of room for the electroplating experiment it sent aloft. It measured about 8 by 8 by 12 inches.

“You’ve got to pack it pretty tight,” he said.

In addition to bringing San Diego opportunities to work at the International Space Station, CASIS is getting ready for the San Diego conference on the International Space Station’s work.

Speakers at the July event will include Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN. The conference is set for July 12-14 at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center. More information is available at www.issconference.org.

Another event — a private dinner for CEOs organized by CONNECT and set for later this month — will feature CASIS Executive Director Gregory Johnson. Johnson is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot. He was an astronaut on two Space Shuttle missions — both on the Endeavour. He spent 32 days in orbit and helped assemble the International Space Station.

The event may include a live communications link with astronauts on the space station.

It’s not yet clear whether the link will be technically feasible, said McKee, the CONNECT CEO, adding that organizers might have to fall back on a recorded Q&A session from space.

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