This 67-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Is Headed to Space

Well, a few microscopic parts of it are.

Geologist Bill Simpson cleans Sue, a 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex on display at Chicago's Field Museum, on Nov. 12, 2013.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
April 14, 2014, 8:39 a.m.

Di­no­saurs once ruled the Earth. Now, 67 mil­lion years later, one of them is leav­ing it.

Mi­croor­gan­isms from a Tyr­an­no­saur­us rex fossil skel­et­on nick­named Sue will be launched in­to space on Monday, headed for the In­ter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. The mi­crobe paen­i­ba­cil­lus mu­cilaginosus, now found in ag­ri­cul­ture fer­til­izers, was col­lec­ted from a swab from the sur­face of the di­no­saur’s bones. It will travel aboard the SpaceX Fal­con 9, a rock­et built by a private U.S. space­flight com­pany and sup­por­ted by NASA. [Up­date: SpaceX’s launch has been post­poned un­til Fri­day due to a he­li­um leak aboard Fal­con 9.]

The launch from Flor­ida’s Cape Canaver­al is sched­uled for 4:58 p.m. EST. Live cov­er­age be­gins here at 3:45 p.m.

Sue’s mi­crobes are joined by 48 oth­er kinds of mi­croor­gan­isms in their jour­ney to out­er space, a ven­ture made pos­sible by Pro­ject Mer­curri, a na­tion­wide ef­fort led by Sci­ence Cheer­lead­er, a group of cur­rent and former NFL and NBA cheer­lead­ers pur­su­ing ca­reers in sci­ence. The oth­er mi­crobes were col­lec­ted from an amus­ingly di­verse range of sources, in­clud­ing vari­ous U.S. sports sta­di­ums, the Liberty Bell, a candy jar from the set of NBC’s The Today Show, and one lucky toi­let in Cali­for­nia. Sci­ent­ists plan to study their be­ha­vi­or in mi­cro­grav­ity to bet­ter plan for long-term hu­man space travel.

The rest of Sue resides in the Field Mu­seum in Chica­go. Her skel­et­on is the largest, most com­plete, and best pre­served T. rex fossil ever found. It was dis­covered in South Dakota’s Bad­lands Na­tion­al Park, a hot spot for di­no­saur re­mains, in 1990.

When the 600-pound skel­et­on ar­rived at a New York City auc­tion house sev­en years later, mu­seum of­fi­cials came ready to out­bid their com­pet­it­ors. The Smith­so­ni­an’s Na­tion­al Mu­seum of Nat­ur­al His­tory was pre­pared to pay $2.5 mil­lion to bring the first T. rex to the na­tion’s cap­it­al, but the Field Mu­seum crushed its of­fer, se­cur­ing Sue with a cool $8.3 mil­lion.

Al­most 17 years after its loss to Chica­go, the D.C. mu­seum is fi­nally get­ting its own T. rex, a 65-mil­lion-year-old fossil found in Montana, this week. But in a way, the Field Mu­seum is still ahead. D.C.’s new di­no­saur is only trav­el­ing cross-coun­try. Sue, on the oth­er hand, is leav­ing the Earth’s at­mo­sphere.

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