The world may have known a cure to cancer ... if only that darn Columbia space shuttle didn't disintegrate over Texas six years ago and if only NASA had been a little more careful taking care of the cargo and debris that landed back on earth.
At least that's what a Pennsylvania company is arguing.
According to a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania federal court against the United States of America, a company called Instrumentation Technology Associates, Inc. claims that its experiments involving protein crystals, designed to create a drug that inhibits the spread of cancer, were aboard the fated Columbia shuttle and landed in a Nacogdoches parking lot after the craft fell apart during re-entry.
By some miracle, the crystals survived the landing, but were extremely temperature sensitive. Within 24 hours, the company claims, it asked NASA if it could get its hands on the experiment before the crystals melted. But apparently, NASA said 'No,' and moved the experiment to Kennedy Space Center in a non-temperature controlled environment. By the time NASA returned the experiment to the company three months later, the crystals were a loss.
The company had sent similar experiments onboard previous space shuttle missions and had reached a point, according to the lawsuit, that the crystals, which grew better in a no-gravity environment, were usable for cancer research back on terra firma. NASA has also prohibited the company from sending similar experiments aboard subsequent space missions in hopes of picking up where the research left off, the lawsuit states.
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Instrumentation Technology Associates initially filed a lawsuit in 2004, but has subsequently amended its claim over the years. It is seeking more than $21 million in damages.
NASA spokesmen were not immediately available for comment. We'll let you know if they chime in.
Update: NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad says NASA does not comment on pending litigation.
-- Chris Vogel