Why NASA Is Launching Yeast Into Space

When NASA’s massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket takes off on its first, uncrewed journey around the moon, currently scheduled for Aug. 29, most people will be paying attention to the 32-story machine itself—the largest rocket ever launched. The yeast accompanying them for the journey will not be noticed by as many people. The little yeast can be a big deal.

Deep space radiation can pose a danger to humans. The astronauts who will be working on missions to Mars or moon bases in the future could face radiation from space for many months, if not years. The SLS will carry a CubeSat of shoebox size, known as BioSentinel. This CubeSat will fly past the Moon and orbit the sun for six to nine months. Microscopic specimens of yeast will be aboard, and will continue to be subjected to the intense radiation of solar particles.

Some of the instruments aboard BioSentinel will measure the intensity of the radiation, while far smaller, finer ones—known as microfluidics cards, built to study extremely small amounts of liquids—will monitor the welfare of the yeast, sending the data they gather back to Earth. While yeast is not a person, it can measure such biological processes like growth, death and DNA damage. BioSentinel will be the first organism to fly farther into space than all other living things on Earth. This will give us information about future astronauts.

But yeast won’t be the only passengers aboard the SLS when it takes off. The Orion crew capsule that will orbit the moon on the mission will be fairly stuffed with cargo—some of it practical, much of it sentimental. As CNN reports, the center seat of the spacecraft—the commander’s seat—will be occupied by a spacesuit-clad mannequin, which will rest against sensors in the seat to measure the acceleration and vibration a real astronaut will experience during the second, crewed flight of the SLS. Moonikin Campos is the affectionate name for this mannequin. First name chosen in a contest. Last name an homage to Arturo Campos (a NASA electrical engineer who was essential to safe return to Apollo 13’s near-disastrous mission in 1970).

Moonikin will also be seated in the two remaining crew seats. Artificial human torsos will flank Moonikin. They will be made from soft, flesh-like materials and will have 34 detectors and more than 5600 sensors to measure radiation exposure.

Also on board: A Snoopy plush toy—a nod to the Apollo 10 lunar orbital mission, which nicknamed its lunar module Snoopy; a pen nib used by Snoopy cartoonist Charles Schulz; a moon rock collected by the Apollo 11 crew; a space science badge from the Girl Scouts of America; a medal commemorating the Apollo 8 mission—the first crewed lunar orbital mission; and a small handful of tree seeds, which will be planted after the Orion spacecraft returns to Earth. It will be continuing a tradition that began with the Apollo 14 lunar land mission. These seeds were planted in various places around the country to grow into well-known moon trees.

Read More From Time

To Jeffrey Kluger at


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