A group of students have launched themselves into the record books by carrying out the first biological experiments using a rocket in New Zealand.

Canterbury University students Matthew Furkert, Jack Davies, Robbie Grove and Thomas Bell recently sent their rocket, dubbed Into the Blue, 31,000 feet above the Waikato countryside.

Within its payload was Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast used for brewing.

Together with Canterbury brewers Damien Treacher and Mark Waller, the students wanted to find out what effect rocket flight would have on the microbial production of metabolites during fermentation.

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The rocket also carried cell cultures of pinus radiata - the Californian species that makes up the bulk of New Zealand's pine plantation.

Dr Sarah Kessans, a biochemistry lecturer at the university and a NASA astronaut candidate finalist interviewee, said that culturing wood-forming pinus radiata cells in low Earth orbit could offer a better understanding of cell physiology in microgravity.

This, she said, might lead to building materials being able to be produced on the moon or Mars.

"The initial launch was a great success, with many lessons learned which will help us to optimise biological payloads on subsequent rocket launches."

The launch attracted hundreds of spectators, some of whom were students now interested in pursuing astrobiology, she said.

"We look forward to integrating additional experiments into the next launches."

The students are entering Into the Blue in the Australasian Universities Rocket Competition, to be held in Queensland in April.