The abbreviated preparation time has exacted a personal toll on Vierling, who got help from Steve Goldman, a professor of biology at the University of Toledo. Goldman is a key patent holder of related technology.
"I've had to spend more than a few nights and weekends to get this project ready to go," Vierling says. "Steve gave me a lot of help. I don't think I could have done all of the preliminary work in my lab alone."
Vierling says he hopes the experiment will lay the groundwork for additional experiments on future shuttle flights and perhaps even the space station: "If this shows some positive results, I would hope that I could have an experiment a year on board the shuttle."
Vierling says 1,000 soybean seeds, of a variety named after retired Purdue plant pathologist Kirk Athow, will occupy a mid-deck locker about the size of a large safe deposit box (18x12x7 inches).
Given the short amount of preparation and the lack of available background information, Vierling says he is cautiously optimistic about the success of the experiment.
"Something like this has never been performed in microgravity. There isn't a wealth of background information for us to go to and say this may happen, or this might not happen. Things may not go as we expect, so we can't get too excited yet," he says.
The seeds will be returned to Purdue and cultivated in greenhouses. The progeny of those seeds will be analyzed as part of Vierling's experiment next spring.