The mission


Docking of the Dragon capsule

The mystery of cancer has moved to space.
For the first time ever, a researcher from a Danish university is sending human cancer cells up to the international space station ISS. A major leap for Danish space research. In 2011 professor in space medicine Daniela Grimm and her team launched cancer cells into space on board the Chinese space shuttle Shenzhou 8. Her biggest scoop, however, is to bring the cancer cells up to the ISS.

Preparations have been underway for years, but finally the team has left for Cape Canaveral, Florida, to be part of SpaceX’s third commercial resupply mission to the ISS.


  • Name of the mission: SpaceX-3 Commercial Resupply Services flight.
  • Name of the Danish/German experiment on board: Cellbox-ISS-spaceflight mission
  • The experiment consists of human thyroid carcinoma cells grown in tiny cultivation chambers.


    The automated Astrium Type-IV experiment chambers that will be the home of the thyroid cancer cells during the mission.

  • Some cancer cells kill themselves faster (apoptosis) in weightlessness than on earth but no one knows why. The answer to that riddle can improve cancer treatments on earth. Daniela and her team are trying to find out what exactly happens to cancer cells in space. We know that some genes are expressed differently in zero gravity, but which genes and how do they affect protein production from the cell’s inner factory?
  • 1-3 days after launch the Dragon capsule will dock to the ISS and the experiment transferred to the space station. The cells will be chemically freezed after a maximum of 10 days – some after 1-3 days. After 30 days the Draon capsule will leave ISS and splash down in the Pacific ocean with the cells hopefully intact. The experiment is fully automatic and no astronauts will work on the cells.
  • The main researchers involved are: Professor Daniela Grimm from Aarhus University and Jessica Pietsch, Stefan Riwaldt and Markus Wehland from Otto-von-Guericke-University in Germany.
  • The experiment is funded by the German Space Agency DLR
  • The cells are flown aboard SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule lifted into space by the Falcon 9 rockets. The whole SpaceX mission is funded by NASA who recently commercialized the supply trips to the ISS.
  • Launch site: Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
  • The mission is to bring supplies to the ISS. On board is 2,5 ton of cargo including a few scientific experiments. 2,5 ton will return to earth.
  • In 2015 Daniela Grimm will again send cells to the ISS as part of an ESA mission.

For the science geeks

Daniela’s official description of the experiment

Single cells are affected by gravitational changes and respond with a wide variety of reactions. Cultured on a random positioning machine or a clinostat, human thyroid cancer cells enhance the rate of programmed cell death (apoptosis), alter cytoskeleton, differentiation behaviour, adhesion and growth, but reduce hormone secretion. During the SIMBOX-Shenzhou-8 space mission we had demonstrated that real microgravity induces changes in cytokine secretion and gene expression patterns in poorly differentiated thyroid cancer cells. In addition, we had harvested 3D multicellular tumour spheroids in the two zero-g container of SIMBOX. These multicellular tumour spheroids (MCTS) may become an excellent model for pharmacological tests such as anti-tumour drug or trans-endothelial-migration tests and, thus, could help to reduce animal experiments in cancer research.

FTC-133 thyroid cancer cells will be cultured during the Cellbox-ISS-spaceflight mission and gravity-dependent cell physiological alterations will be analysed after landing. MCTS will be investigated in more detail. Moreover, we will perform PROTEOMICS on these space-flown samples. The supernatants will be investigated by Multianalyte Profiling technology. Moreover, we will examine an altered gene expression in Space by gene array and quantitative rt PCR techniques.

In summary, microgravity is an invaluable tool for exploring new targets in anticancer therapy and can be simulated in some aspects in ground-based facilities.

En tanke om "The mission"

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