Project MERCCURI patch

Citizen science is blazing a trail into Earth orbit.

Onboard the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon capsule soon to be headed for the International Space Station (ISS) are microbes collected from across the United States.

The effort is known as Project MERCCURI. It investigates how microbes from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those found on the ISS.

Project MERCCURI is a citizen science collaboration between UC Davis, Science Cheerleader and Thousands of people have participated in the endeavor.

Swabbed: shoes and cell phones

For example, led by the Science Cheerleaders — current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and technology careers — several Pop Warner cheer teams swabbed practice fields, shoes, and cell phones for microbes.

Other people collected microbial samples at NFL, NBA, and MLB stadiums; from schools; from landmarks like the Liberty Bell, Sue the T-Rex, the statue of Ben Franklin in Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and during events including Yuri’s Nights – a series of gatherings across the country to commemorate the first human in space, Soviet space pioneer, Yuri Gagarin.

Selected were 48 microbes. Given approval from NASA, those microbes are set to ride inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule, blasting off from Florida toward the ISS on March 16th.

Big insight from microbes

Scientists hope to gain insights into what is living at the space station, how microbes vary between different places on Earth and in space, and to compare growth of microbes on Earth and in microgravity.

Understanding how microbes behave in microgravity is critically important for planning long-term human spaceflight said David Coil, a microbiologist at UC Davis, “but also has the possibility of giving us new insight into how these microbes behave in built environments on Earth.”

Project MERCCURI is coordinated by Science Cheerleader,, and UC Davis, in conjunction with the Argonne National Laboratory. The Project is made possible by Space Florida, NanoRacks, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

NOTE: Want to keep your space eye on Project MERCCURI as it continues over the next several months?

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Credit: Tom Swanson

Credit: Tom Swanson

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