University of Pittsburgh
April 23, 1998


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, April 24 -- David Rossi, class of '79 and president of Arlington, Virginia based Spacehab, Inc., a company that leases laboratory space on certain Space Shuttle scientific missions, has given the University of Pittsburgh a very unusual gift—a chance to fly experiments on board a shuttle mission scheduled for May 2000.

Rossi's gift, worth as much as $50,000, came in addition to a yearly contribution he makes to fund an annual chemistry scholarship. Rossi graduated from Pitt with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. He went on to receive an MBA from Harvard, was one of the founders of Orbital Sciences Corp., the company that launches the Pegasus rocket, and helped start Spacehab.

"I was trying to think of other ways to say 'thank you' to my alma mater," said Rossi. "We have this mission coming up in 2000 and we've been involved in an effort to provide experimental opportunities on the shuttle to make our product more available, so I made the offer to the university and they accepted."

"This is perhaps the most unusual gift from a graduate that I have ever heard of," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "It's a wonderful gesture."

The Pitt experiments will be protein crystallizations, typically used in the development of new drugs by pharmaceutical companies. Pitt scientists will be able to fly two experiments involving two proteins for a total of 12 crystallizations. Rossi is leaving it up to the university to choose the exact experiments, but they will likely come from the biological sciences and chemistry.

The experiments take place inside a special module created by Spacehab that flies inside the shuttle cargo bay. The protein crystallization experiments are conducted at very near zero-gravity, a condition that helps researchers create much more useful crystalline formations than occur in normal gravity.

Spacehab has now flown experiments on 10 shuttle missions. "In the past there has really been no private lab allowed on the shuttle besides Spacehab," said Rossi. "Until now only NASA decided who could fly experiments on the shuttle. For the first time we're in a position to sell space in our module to commercial customers. Of course, our customers still have to meet all of NASA's requirements."

Rossi was an honors student in chemistry at Pitt and received the highest honor paid to an undergraduate, the Omicron Delta Kappa Senior of the Year Award.