A major challenge for astronauts in long-duration space travel is combatting the hazardous spaceflight environment caused by microgravity and increased levels of ionizing radiation. Microgravity damages cellular DNA by increasing the production of harmful reactive oxygen species, while ionizing radiation damages DNA by creating double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) breaks. Cellular damage due to microgravity and radiation has been investigated using ground-based models, but most models consider microgravity and ionizing radiation alone, or asynchronously. Synchronous modeling better mimics spaceflight conditions and can be used to understand the combined effects of microgravity and ionizing radiation. However, commercially available devices to model microgravity and radiation are rare and costly, requiring both a rotary cell culture system and beam time at a national lab or an independent radiation source. While independent radiation sources are becoming less difficult to use or purchase, commercially available devices to simulate microgravity are still cost prohibitive to many researchers.

In this study, we developed a low-cost, open source cell culture system for studying the role that synchronous ionizing radiation and microgravity play in pathophysiology during spaceflight conditions. Our system was validated by exposing C2C12 mouse myoblast cells to ionizing radiation at levels approximating 9-month and 10-year Mars missions while simulating microgravity. DNA damage to cells was quantified using -H2AX (a fluorescent marker for double-stranded breaks), while reactive oxygen species production was visualized using CellROX green. Cells exposed to long-term mission doses had statistically significant increases in DNA damage and ROS production compared to both the short-term and control conditions. Our proof of concept shows that the low-cost, open source mini-RCCS can be used to mimic the radiation and microgravity hazards of the spaceflight environment at the same level as expensive commercial systems.

Author ORCID Identifier

Elizabeth Vargis

JR Dennison



Document Type




File Format

.txt, .SLDDRW

Viewing Instructions

SolidWorks required to use data.

Publication Date



Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium


Utah State University

Award Number

Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium, Research Infrastructure Minigrant 2017

Award Title

Research Infrastructure Minigrant 2017


SolidWorks files were created by graduate and undergraduate research assistants on this project and used to machine and assemble the miniature rotary cell culture system.

Start Date


End Date




Code Lists

RCCS - rotary cell culture system


Apparatus base - vertical aluminum base that rotary vessels attach to

Base plate - aluminum plate that attaches to rear end cap of rotary vessel

Bottom of base - horizontal aluminum plate that attaches to apparatus base

Bottom - polycarbonate rear end cap of rotary vessel; attaches to base plate Polycarbonate tube - polycarbonate tubing used as the cell culture area; attaches to Bottom and Top

Shielding plate motor - graphite plate that attaches to Apparatus base to shield the rotary motor from radiation

Shielding plate - graphite plate that attaches to top of mini-RCCS to shield metal and plastic outside culture area

Top - polycarbonate forward end car of rotary vessel; attaches to Polycarbonate tube

***Some modifications were made to parts post-machining. These modifications are not included in the files available.***

Caldwell_data - data collected from immunocytochemistry performed on C2C12 cells


Biological Engineering | Physics


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



Additional Files

README.txt (4 kB)
MD5: EE7DF612941F7B93011716959645EDFB

Apparatus_Base_V5.SLDDRW (354 kB)
MD5: 564c566b7aa50318662e777f63cbb215

Base_Plate_V5.SLDDRW (282 kB)
MD5: 8fae20894ba190ee7f9de2c8007281d7

bottom_of_base_V4.SLDDRW (254 kB)
MD5: 6b17f2ab93184c4969d03f73742d5b3f

Bottom_V4.SLDDRW (761 kB)
MD5: 296616ff0e425ad6e2f1eaa820828630

Polycarbonate_Tube_1_5.SLDDRW (229 kB)
MD5: daaf2905c737fef5dd7ef9ba889ff822

Shielding_Plate.SLDDRW (253 kB)
MD5: 8aeb7a3ff15268f7be52d06242ec8387

Shielding_Plate_Motor.SLDDRW (236 kB)
MD5: 8c79fc473ea2fcab01fdaa2d78cb1357

Top_V2.SLDDRW (292 kB)
MD5: ed161f145357145c138bec8f447d3f14

Caldwell_data.xlsx (15 kB)
MD5: 83521641BC0693D2D497878465AE1789