Space enthusiasts around the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing over the summer, around the same time as a group of Randall Middle School students saw some of their own scientific dreams come true.
Four seventh and eighth grade members of Randall’s competitive Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) team had their project selected to be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) where astronauts conducted numerous steps to help the young scientists with their research.
The Mung Bean Project, created by Riana Basista, Payton Hardy, Sydney Jacobson and Alexander January, was one of 3,683 projects submitted as part of SSEP Mission 13 to the ISS, where it passed through a rigorous protocol process and was chosen to launch from Kennedy Space Center in July.
“This was a life-changing experience for these students,” said Mary Vaughn, the group’s facilitator who also teaches science at Randall. “The selection process is very competitive and the students learned a lot at every step.”
According to Vaughn, the students developed their project to find out if mung beans, which are high in nutrients such as vitamins K, B2, B9, B6, C and B1 thiamine, can be grown in space as a source of food for astronauts.
“The beans can also be eaten raw, which the students proposed meant that the astronauts will need to take less supplies into space,” she said.
While at the space station, astronauts initiated on the experiment, which offered three different conditions for mung bean growth. The students conducted the same experiment in their classroom at the same time. The experiment will return to Earth on a Dragon spacecraft which will splash down off the coast of California and will be returned to the students within 24 to 60 hours of landing.
The cost to fund the experiment and its trip in the space station is approximately $25,000, and Vaughn and the team worked with numerous local sponsors, including Suncoast Credit Union, McDonald’s Caspers Company, United Skates of America and Affiliated Rinks, Tampa Bay STEM Network and Dr. Jennifer Conde with Comprehensive Center for Dermatology, to make their dream a reality.
The SSEP was created almost 10 years ago by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education to offer students the ability to design and propose real experiments and to inspire and engage America’s next generation of scientists and engineers.
Two other projects from Randall were chosen as honorable mention finalists this year, and Vaughn is making the opportunity to form teams and submit proposals to the program open to all students in grades five to 12 in Hillsborough County schools.
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. Clark Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBD 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.