HS space station experiment working perfectly

February 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A team of advanced math and science students at San Jose's Valley Christian High School has plenty of reason to be excited. Their experiment aboard the International Space Station was turned on Friday, and they're starting to get batches of data and photographs.

They also received the first video on Monday of their module as Space Station Commander Scott Kelly was checking it out. The project is trying to determine whether plant-based food can be grown to sustain astronauts during their lengthy space missions. So far, everything is working perfectly.

It will take another three or four days before students will be able to see whether the seeds planted inside the closed cube are starting to germinate. LEDs (light emiting diodes) provide a light source 18 hours a day. They are turned off for eight hours to simulate nighttime. The first data transmitted to Earth, a process known as a "digital dump," provided the 22 students with temperature and humidity readings that confirm that growing conditions are right and that the seeds are getting micro-droplets of water to initiate the germination process.

They will continue to receive data and images every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the cube is put aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in mid-March for a return voyage to Earth. The cube reached the space station last Friday aboard a Japanese-launched cargo shuttle.

There are three kinds of plants on board -- basil, marigolds and Wisconsin fast plant. The cube measures four inches by four inches by eight inches. It contains certain circuit boards, a bladder to hold water, a mirror to enable the on-board camera to get a side angle view of the sprouting process, sensors and the aforementioned LEDs.

Valley Christian's students are led by faculty and volunteers with a wealth of science and engineering background. One of them, Dan Saldana, was a long-time engineer who helped put 89 satellites into space, some of them highly classified projects.