When space shuttle Atlantis last launched from Cape Canaveral this month, more than 200 students and teachers from across the nation had particular reason to be excited. They had helped prepare the nearly 300 protein and viral samples which the space shuttle delivered to the International Space Station (ISS). Students and perhaps even a politician or two have taken part in space experiments in the past, but this experiment takes the concept of lab assistants to new heights.

As principal investigator, space crystallographer, and biochemist, Alexander McPherson, of University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have been flying this experiment since September 1984, when they were guest investigators with University of Alabama researchers. In ensuing years, their experiments flew on seven shuttle missions to the former Russian space station Mir, including the first American mission, as well as numerous other shuttle missions—all without student involvement.

The goal of the...

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