DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The highly anticipated launch of the space rocket Artemis will also include what could end up being groundbreaking cancer research from a team in Durham.

Scientists with the Durham Veterans Affairs Health Care System were chosen by NASA to place an experiment inside the rocket. 

It’s a collection of green algae that will be exposed to high energy cosmic radiation that damages DNA. The data will then be used to help make cancer radiation therapy more effective.

NASA also has an interest in the algae, looking to use it to produce hydrogen to help fuel return missions.

More specifically, here’s what Dr. Tim Hammond and Dr. Holly Birsdall had to say about the experiment being launched with Artemis:

What is this algae experiment?

Simple systems like algae share the many genes with humans and can be a key to understanding the more complex human systems. Our experiment uses algae to identify the responses to cosmic radiation which has applications to human health, such as cancer care.

Is it still going up with the launch Wednesday morning?

Yes.  If the rocket launches, our experiment launches. The biology has been recharged with fresh samples. The hardware has been refurbished, such as placing fresh batteries.

What do you hope to learn from this experiment?

To identify the genes that confer a survival advantage in the high energy radiation of space.

Similarly: How will this help people?

Cosmic radiation, outside the van Allen belt that protects Earth, offers a unique opportunity to learn about high energy radiation and its potential uses in cancer care.

Why algae?

Algae have minimal growth requirements in space – just light and warmth, perfect demands for the simple resources available in the early Artemis missions.  We are using a library of algae in which each gene has been tagged to allow identification of the genes that provide a survival advantage in deep space.

Anything else you want to add?

Research is a small but critical component of Durham VA Health Care System activities and we’re happy to have our research help our Veterans.