Bellevue, WA- The clock is counting down as eighth grade scientists Subi Lumala, Vivienne Rutherford, and Catherine Whitmer await a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the launch of the experiment they developed, Arabidopsis Germination in Martian Soil Simulant, to the International Space Station. The experiment investigates how Arabidopsis seeds (mustard family) germinate in simulated Martian soil (Hawaiian volcanic soil) under microgravity conditions. They are hoping the results will be useful for future human colonies on Mars.
Open Window School will celebrate the launch in an all-school assembly on Friday, March 3 where the three students will present their project and all students from kindergarten to eighth grade will receive mission patches to commemorate the space flight carrying the Open Window School experiment.
The experiment is scheduled to fly as part of the Endeavor payload of SSEP Mission 9 to International Space Station on SpaceX-10, projected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on February 18, 2017. This is the first lift-off for SpaceX from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, built for the Apollo program in the 1960s. Apollo 11
launched from Launch Pad 39A in 1969 carrying the first human passengers to the moon.
In addition to more than a dozen experiments, the Falcon 9 rocket will be carrying over 5,000 pounds of equipment, including food and supplies for the astronauts aboard the station. There are a variety of experiments aboard this flight, including an experiment monitoring the “superbug” MRSA to investigate how the bacterium grows and mutates without the pull of gravity, an experiment to gather and grow antibody crystals, earth-monitoring systems to sense gases in the planet’s stratosphere, and our very own Open Window School experiment, Arabidopsis Germination in Martian Soil Simulant.
Astronauts will conduct the experiment to the students’ specifications over a period of 4-6 weeks while the experiment is in flight. After each interaction, astronauts will communicate with our students via an online experiment log so our Open Window School students can conduct their Ground Truth (control) experiments here at Open Window on the same timeline.
Fifty teams of fourth through eighth grade Open Window students worked during the fall of 2015 on proposals for microgravity experiments, which were reviewed in a two-step process. This 2-step proposal review process modeled a real call for research proposals by an organization such as NASA, NSF, or NIH.
The team prepared the experiment for flight this fall after walking through test runs last spring. The experiment had to be specially designed to work within the constraints of a Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) research mini-laboratory and pass a NASA Flight Safety Review.
In addition to the microgravity experiment, Open Window School will send two official mission patches designed by fourth grader Sophia Sekits and fifth grader Cadence Ching on the flight.
Head of School, Jeff Stroebel, believes that SSEP offered a unique opportunity for Open Window school students: “Participation in SSEP has offered our students an experience that they will remember the rest of their lives. Far more than learning science, they have had the opportunity to be scientists, developing an experiment structured identically to the work of the world’s leading researchers.”
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program [or SSEP] is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre- college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.