An Interview with Nathan Scinto-Madonich and Dr. Imara Perera
Dr. Imara Perera is a Research Professor at North Carolina State University, where her lab specializes in inositol phosphate metabolism, signaling, and how these metabolites aid plant responses to stress. She has had two experiments on the International Space Station, investigating plant signaling in microgravity as well as plant RNA regulation.
. Where were you when you first learned of the Apollo 11 mission? What was your reaction?
In 1969, I was growing up in Sri Lanka. The country did not have TV service at the time so we could not watch anything live, only radio broadcasts. I know that I relied heavily on subsequent news articles and magazine features for a school space project. Space and the human exploration seemed such a fantastical thing at the time; I had no idea I would research growing plants in space in the future.
2. Did Apollo 11 have any effect on your career aspirations or trajectory? What ultimately inspired you to study the effects of the space environment on plants?
I was part of a large NASA funded center for research here at NCSU and that got me started on plant gravitational biology. My research was on the involvement of lipid signaling in the signal transduction cascade between gravity perception and growth response. This lead to experiments to look at plant growth in microgravity.
3. If you have sent plants into space for experiments, could you describe what your feelings after the launch?
Our first spaceflight experiment was transported to the ISS on the last space shuttle mission STS -135. We were very fortunate to be able to witness the launch, a truly poignant and exhilarating experience. There was a nerve-wracking moment when the countdown paused… but then it resumed and we watched the shuttle take off and wished our little Arabidopsis seeds a safe journey…
4. Are there lasting lessons from Apollo 11 that you would impart to students or early career researchers 50 years after this momentous event?
I think it is a testament to the power of the human spirit, the dedication working towards a seemingly unattainable goal, as well as the importance of collaboration and team effort. If there is one thing I have learned about space experiments, it is that one cannot do it alone. I had no idea how much coordination goes into flight experiments and I am so grateful to the dedicated NASA scientists and engineers who helped make our experiment a reality.
I want to thank Dr. Imara Perera for contributing to the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Post!
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