Ray Huard… Eighth-grader Elizabeth Rearick wants to see what happens to spider eggs or fish eggs when they’re sent up in space to a microgravity environment. “I think it would be cool to send living organisms up there,” Elizabeth said.
Hers is but one of many ideas Vista Magnet Middle School students are kicking around as they develop an experiment to be sent up to the International Space Station later this year as part of the Student Spaceflights Experiments Program (SSEP).
Vista Magnet is one of 14 communities in the United States and Canada that are participating in the program’s Mission 8, said Principal Anne Green.
Aimed at promoting interest in space and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, the SSEP was started five years ago by the National Center for Earth and Space Science in partnership with NanoRacks LLC , the flight services providers.
The program was expanded internationally in 2012 through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.
The SSEP “was a perfect fit” for Vista Magnet because the school is focused on STEM education and is an International Baccalaureate School, Green said. “We were on the lookout for a project that we could use school-wide that would address an international audience and focus on science,” Green said. “The whole point is to make STEM come alive, make science something greater.”
The program has done that, judging by the enthusiasm it’s engendered among Vista Magnet students and teachers.
“I feel excited because we’re actually testing something that’s going up in space,” said sixth-grader Luis Gutierrez.
“It’s just really cool and exciting,” said classmate Ivan Reyes Mercado.
Their teacher, Chris McGregor, said he’s even learned something new from the research his students are doing – that astronauts don’t really float in space as he was told when he was growing up. “You’re always being pulled by something,” McGregor said, be it the Earth’s gravity or that of the moon or another planet. “I can more accurately describe gravity or microgravity,” McGregor said.
Teacher Stephanie Sanchez said she’s having a ball researching space-related topics and possible experiments along with her eighth grade students.
“This is probably the most exciting thing I’ve been a part of,” Sanchez said. “It’s the most open-ended thing that’s ever been brought into the classroom, so I’m learning things right along with them.” Instead of having all the answers, Sanchez said more often than not, when a student raises a question about space or designing an experiment, her response is, “Let’s look it up.” “They’re really having to do a lot of research and problem solving before they get into the project,” Sanchez said. “They get to see what scientists do in the real world.”
The students are working in teams of up to five students each to design possible experiments.
They have until April 24 to finish their designs, which will be submitted to a six-member panel being assembled by Green.
The panel will include teachers, community members and representatives of nearby colleges and universities, Green said.
Three finalists will be chosen by the panel, with the final selection of which experiment makes it to the space station to be determined by a panel of experts chosen by the SSEP, Green said. After selection, the experiment will undergo NASA Flight Safety Review before being approved for flight.
Along with the experiments themselves, Vista Unified School District is sponsoring a contest open to all district students to design mission patches, which also will go up to the International Space Station.
One patch will be selected from among elementary school students who enter and one from among high school students, Green said.
The patches must be on a piece of paper, not cardboard or card stock, and can be no larger than 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches. They can be in color or black-and-white, but cannot have multiple layers of paper glued or taped on top of each other.
Entries must be submitted by 4 p.m. May 15 to Vista Magnet Middle School, 151 Civic Center Drive, Vista, CA, 92084. They must include the student’s name, age, grade, phone number, address, email address, school and a description of what the patch symbolizes.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (http://ssep.ncesse.org) is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE; http://ncesse.org) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.