What do professional cheerleaders, a T. Rex, and the International Space Station all have in common? They are all part of Project Merccuri, a mission to study microorganisms on Earth and in space. The microbes that will be studied on the International Space Station (ISS) have been collected from a wide range of places on Earth, including a swab from Sue, a T. Rex dinosaur at the Chicago Field Museum. She is the oldest participant at some 67 million years of age.
Project Merccuri and the cheerleaders
This microbial experiment involves thousands of people nationwide and is being cheered on (literally) by a group called Science Cheerleader. What many see as an unusual organization was fashioned by current and former professional cheerleaders from the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), who now purse careers in the fields of science and technology.
T. Rex and the Liberty Bell
Science Cheerleader’s project, MERCCURI (pronounced like the planet) actually stands for Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on the ISS. Among the collections of microbes headed to the space station will be swabs of microbes not only from Sue, the T. Rex, but also from locations like sports stadiums, the Liberty Bell, and (fittingly enough) from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. In total some 48 different samples will be compared with each other, as well with microbes already existing on the International Space Station.
Sue is a favorite tourist attraction in Chicago, and according to former 76ers Cheerleader Darlene Cavalier, “The symmetry is beautiful: an old T. Rex involved in research at the space station.” Already, at the University of California-Davis, scientists have found traces of paenibacillus mucilaginosus (an agricultural fertilizer) on the dinosaur’s skeleton.
Sue’s space odyssey will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in about a week’s time. The initial launch was scrubbed due to recent problems with the rocket’s radar tracking mechanism. Those interested in the scientific experiment can follow along on SpaceMicrobes.org.