Grace Kalnins and Lucas McMillin, the Mission 14 team, investigate how spinach can grow on a space station.

By Dominique Asher

Grace Kalnins and Lucas McMillin’s dreams came true last month when they traveled to Playalinda Beach and watched their project, years in the making, launch into space on December 9, 2020 at 11:17 a.m. The spinach project was among other science projects sent to the International Space Station in December on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket is set to return to earth on Saturday, January 11.

Students at Randall Middle School are already working on their ideas for the next projects, including an exciting partnership with NASA’s Growing Beyond Earth program, which collects data for future space crops and works directly with the plant scientists at Kennedy Space Center.

Original story printed July 2020.

Up, up and away! A group of aspiring STEM students from Randall Middle School recently participated in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), working together to create their ‘Spinach on the Station’ project, which was chosen to fly up to space.

Guided by Mary Vaughn, teacher of Gifted Earth and Space Science at Randall, the Mission 14 team, made up of seventh grade student Grace Kalnins and eighth grade student Lucas McMillin, worked rigorously to produce an entry to the highly competitive SSEP.

SSEP is a demanding competition incorporating science, history, written communication skills and math that is held by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE), where students must answer an essential question: “What physical, chemical or biological system would [they] like to explore with gravity seemingly turned off for a period of time, as a means of assessing the role of gravity in that system?”

Kalnins and McMillin researched microgravity and the bone mass loss that it causes. The team came up with the idea that spinach would be a viable food source, as it is high in nutrients and especially calcium, and they researched ways that astronauts going to the Moon or Mars could be able to grow the spinach.

After concluding that spinach would be a viable food source, Kalnins and McMillin started the experimental design and proposal writing phase and concluded with a five-page proposal.


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