School experiment heads to International Space Station

High school students will watch the launch of a Japanese-made rocket headed for the International Space Station.

January 19, 2011 6:59:11 PM PST
A team of 22 San Jose high school students and their four advisors will be anxiously watching the launch Wednesday night of a Japanese-made rocket that is headed for the International Space Station. The payload on board is a science experiment focused on plant growth in space that represents over 1,000 hours of their time.

The students are part of an extracurricular program called the Applied Math Science and Engineering Institute at Valley Christian High School. They had to write essays, fill out a lengthy application and go through rigorous interviews to become part of the program. The space experiment was the brainchild of two faculty members, who brokered the deal. It is believed to be the first space station experiment ever done by high school students.

"If you give students an opportunity to do something significant and apply what they've learned in the classroom, it just doesn't get any better," faculty advisor Werner Vavken said.

Veronica Lane, project manager, is a senior hoping to attend MIT or Georgia Tech next fall. She says NASA needs to know how it can help astronauts of the future grow their own food aboard the space station on extended missions since refrigeration of food would take up a large amount of space and require electricity in limited supply.

"Some of the things that we expect is the water will travel better in space because there's no gravity so that means the plants will be able to grow faster, so those are some of the hypotheses that we have currently," she said.

They picked three types of plants -- basil, marigolds and Wisconsin fast plant, that will grow inside a 4x4x8'' cube from seeds. Data will be sent back to earth for the students to study.

"Everyone had opinions on what plants we were going to choose, and we brought them all to the table, and we got into some heated debates sometimes on what we were going to choose. And then we came up with what we thought were the best decisions," Payload team member Ross Martinez said.

The first data from their experiment should be transmitted to earth in mid-February.

"You can really make a difference and you do something crazy for science. It's so exciting," Lane said.