Today we hit a very important milestone in our project: loading bacteria into our system for the first time! We practiced our best biosafety techniques and ran through our entire loading procedure in a biosafety cabinet, much like we will be doing at the Kennedy Space Center.
However, with progress also comes new problems. After getting used to practicing our loading procedure with starch and salt, loading with the actual bacteria proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. Unlike the starch, the bacteria tended to "cling" to everything, whether it was our metal scoop, the Delrin box, the BIDs, or the glass container it came in. With all the extra handling of the BIDs, it was very easy to knock them out of place. So, when the time came to align all of the the pins, actuators, and BIDs, one of the BIDs was rotated out of alignment. To combat this problem, we machined grooves in the bottoms of the BIDs for the final Space Box, so they can be rotated at any time in the loading process using a screwdriver.
Despite running into new problems, we were able to successfully load and release bacteria from two out of the three BIDs and run the pump to ensure that the bacteria was fully rinsed from the BIDs and mixed into the wet space of the box.
As the days tick down towards launch, we plan to continue practicing and refining our loading procedure, as well as familiarizing ourselves with the bacteria, so that our experiment will go as smoothly as possible when launch day arrives.