Friday, January 23, 2015

Operations at Glenn Research Center (GRC) are off to a great start. We spent the day running through the LMM (Light Microscopy Module) data collection protocols that we will be using for our flight experiment on Monday.  We are using our standard 10 cm square petri plates, but in addition to plants, the plates are also decorated with a series of fluorescent markers that we will use for calibration.

Step one is to take a reference photo of the plate. For this test run, the below reference photo was taken with my cell phone – on orbit the reference photo of the LMM plate will be taken by the astronaut with a sophisticated SLR camera.

Step two is to attach the petri plate to the LMM sample holder by means of Velcro tabs. This stabilizes the plate, and on orbit prevents it from floating off the surface.

Step three is the insertion of the sample holder into the Ground Imaging Unit (GIU) of the LMM, and (in this case) draping the microscope in black cloth to prevent stray light from interfering with fluorescent imaging.
Step four is to walk back from the High Bay where the LMM is housed, into the comfort of the Telescience Center.
From here,  we and a team of engineers “drive” the LMM; all operations – finding plant parts in the field of view, focusing, and collecting images – is done telemetrically. Although the ‘scope is only about 200 yards away, we conduct the experiment exactly as if it were, say, 200 miles above the surface of the earth… both the ground  and space station the role of navigators (and sometimes backseat drivers) as we peruse what the LMM reveals about how our plants are responding to their environment. Pretty amazing stuff.

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