It was a first-ever test of planetary protection technology that, one day, could keep humans from contaminating the sands of Mars.
"We conducted the tests using LOCAD-PTS, a miniature biological lab for space travelers," explains Jake Maule, principal investigator for the experiment. LOCAD-PTS stands for Lab-On-A-Chip Application Development Portable Test System.
"Before STS-119 crew members Steve Swanson and Richard Arnold exited the International Space Station airlock to install the station's new solar arrays, astronaut Sandy Magnus swabbed their gloves with LOCAD's high-tech 'Q-tip' and then tested that Q-tip for microbes. The procedure was repeated when the astronauts re-entered the space station more than six hours later."
"This experiment will show how to integrate quick bio-monitoring tests of spacesuits into the very busy periods before and after EVA, when procedures need to be streamlined and efficient," says Maule. "LOCAD is quick and easy, so it can be used during those times without too much interference. It takes only about 10 seconds to swab and 15 minutes to get the results."