Rocketing Research

UMKC biology student’s project is launched into space

Although 5 miles away from the launch pad, Luan “Kevin” Ngo’s chest rumbled from the thrust power of the rocket, burning 69 gallons of fuel per second as it blasted off from Earth into space carrying his research.

Yes, April 2, 2018 was one of the best days of the UMKC biology student’s life. He was on hand to witness the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket — with his project — from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The experience was amazing; I can’t explain the excitement,” says Ngo, a senior in the School of Biological Sciences. “Our experiment was the first ever to be able to send sperm into space.”

Since last August, Ngo has been part of the team that is seeing how sperm squirm in weightlessness, using both human and bull sperm. The NASA mission is launching to the International Space Station.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the investigation, called Micro-11. Little is currently known about the biology of reproduction in space, and this experiment will begin to address the gap by measuring how the sperm functions. Studying reproductive biology in space is useful because the unique environment of microgravity can reveal processes and connections not visible in gravity on Earth. The principal investigator of the project is from the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Ngo is conducting research as part of that group.



Ngo’s journey

Ngo was born and raised in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. He, his mother and two brothers came to the U.S. in 2005. They moved to Missouri because this was where his grandmother lived after the Vietnam War.

“I was the middle child that always gets overlooked, but it’s alright,” Ngo says.

He graduated in 2009 from William Chrisman High School in Independence. After that, he served in the Marine Corps for six years. He was deployed most of his time, going to the Mediterranean Sea and then Afghanistan twice. He was injured, and the corps retired him out as a sergeant. It took a long time to recover from his injuries.

“After all the time I was away from my mom, I wanted to come back to be closer to her,” Ngo says. “So I chose UMKC to be close by so I could see her when I am free or if she needed help.”

Ngo, president of the UMKC Student Veterans organization, is currently in the process of studying for the MCAT this June. His goal after graduating in December is to go to medical school after UMKC or to enroll in the Master of Science of Anesthesia program at UMKC.

“I have learned so much in research,” Ngo says. “It’s really exciting to be able to know that the experiment that I am working on was sent into space.”



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