Space Shuttle Discovery STS-133 is carrying 9 research experiments up into space in the mid-deck area.
Of the experiments the one that stood out for me was a groundbreaking study at the molecular level. This microbiology is identifying the causes of cascading effect of illnesses in molecules. Essentially the concept is that by identifying and controlling the initial outbreak as it occurs the cascading effect as it spreads through your immune system can be halted thus effectively preventing the illness.
Discussing this with Dr Mille Hughes-Fulford, micro-biologist and Space Shuttle STS-40 veteran, she told me that this research in space was critical for a number of reasons, but the most important was that normally healthy immune systems become vulnerable in low gravity environments. Of the 29 Apollo astronauts 15 returned home either with infections or picked up infections within a few days of returning to earth. Research has proved that the cause of this was the effect of low gravity on the immune system. This make Space an ideal environment for micro-biological experiments. As astronauts are among the healthiest people on (or off) earth then all other causes of infection can be ruled out, making the identification of the molecules starting the cascade much easier. Dr Hughes-Fulford suggested that this research could not only be the end of the common cold, but will have far wider implications for all sorts of illness, including Asthma and other allergic conditions.
Normally this sort of research takes about 10-20 years from experimentation to being productised, but Dr Hughes-Fulford suggested that her research may well reap rewards much faster than that, possibly even within 3 years.