New Student Experiments Reach ISS on SpaceX CRS-14

BY: Julia Sable
Date Added: April 13th, 2018

For the SpaceX CRS-14 mission, a Dragon capsule launched on April 2 and berthed with the International Space Station on April 4. The capsule carried 5,836 pounds (2,647 kilograms) of food, experiments and hardware, including 31 experiments designed by middle and high school students!

Launching your own experiment to the ISS is easier than you might think! Space Station Explorers has several programs that send students’ science to space, including DreamUp, Genes in Space, Go For Launch!, Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge, National Design Challenge, Quest for Space, the Space Crystal Prize, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), and the Zero Robotics competition.

Enjoy this recap of the launch day, as experienced by the student researchers.

1.  April 2, 2018 was a beautiful Florida day with clear skies and gentle winds—a great day for a rocket launch!

2.  The Visitor Complex was calm in the morning, but traffic quickly intensified as thousands of visitors arrived to view the launch.

3.  Student teams presented their projects to the public on a stage surrounded by Journey to Mars exhibits. This team from Kentucky is made up of the top-scoring students from multiple schools that participated in the Go for Launch! program.

4.  Jaylene Baltazar and Mihir Kasmalkar from Valley Christian High School were excited to present their experiments on plant germination and growth in microgravity, made possible through their school’s partnership with Quest Institute.

5.  Four student teams did stage presentations: a multi-school team from Kentucky (left four) that participated in the Go For Launch! program; the winners of the Space Crystal Prize (three with matching T-shirts); and two students from Valley Christian High School, Mihir Kasmalkar (center) and Jaylene Baltazar (right).

6.  After their stage presentations, the students caught a bus to the Apollo/Saturn V center to enjoy the exhibits and set up their posters.

7.  Several programs help students design and launch experiments to the ISS. The programs that sent educational payloads on the SpaceX CRS-14 mission include Go For Launch!, the Space Crystal Prize, Quest for Space, and Quest Institute’s partnerships with specific schools. Learn more about how you can send science to space!

8.  The top award for the 2017 Wisconsin Crystal Growing Competition was the Space Crystal Prize: the opportunity to design a crystal growing experiment for the ISS. The winning students designed their own mission patch and printed it on T-shirts for their whole group.

9.  Twenty-four student projects used a programmable multipurpose experiment platform recently developed by Quest Institute for Quality Education. Classrooms participating in the Quest for Space program receive devices similar to one onboard the ISS. Darius Deac showed how fourth graders at Valley Christian Elementary School programmed their classroom device to turn a lightbulb on and off and measure temperatures of light- and dark-colored surfaces. Once they got their code working in the classroom, they uploaded it to the device onboard the ISS.

10. Calvary Christian School also participated in the Quest for Space program. Sophomore Guy Worley presented a poster about an experiment on natural air convection, which is noticeably different in microgravity because denser air doesn’t sink the way it does on Earth. “The most exciting part of working on the project was furthering my knowledge of coding,” he said. “It was awesome getting to watch the rocket launch. My school started yelling the countdown when it got down to 10 seconds till launch!”

11. James Brewster and Ben Whitted, also from Calvary Christian School, talked about their Quest for Space project with Dan Saldana, Director of ISS and Satellite Programs at Valley Christian Schools’ Applied Math-Science-Engineering (AMSE) Institute. They designed a heat conduction experiment on their classroom device by connecting sensors and electronic components to a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 programmable brick. “It was extremely exciting to work with others and learn from them as we put many parts together to form a complete product,” said Ben. “It was an amazing feeling to watch something we worked on be launched into orbit!”

12.  Jaylene Baltazar from Valley Christian High School presented her team’s experiment that looks at how BAM-FX nutrient solution affects plant growth on Earth and in microgravity. The high school students worked with Quest Institute to design and build custom hardware with electronically controlled air and water pumps, LED lights, an automated camera, and materials to anchor and deliver nutrients to the plants.

13.  The winning students from the Wisconsin Crystal Growing Competition put science and art side by side, presenting one poster about their crystal growth experiments and another about the mission patch they designed. To develop their award-winning project, seventh-grader Payton VanDomelen (center) said the team “used the engineering design process and the scientific method.”

14.  Mihir Kasmalkar from Valley Christian High School presented another plant growth experiment with specialized hardware that his team built in collaboration with Quest Institute. The students designed a compact electromagnet to expose plants to changing electric fields. The experience inspired Mihir to envision himself in an engineering career. “I learned how to think critically and solve problems,” he said. “The launch was awesome!”

15.  Middle and high school students from Kentucky designed an experiment to study how microgravity affects a type of healthy bacteria found in yogurt. Their flight project was made possible by the Go For Launch! program, operated by Higher Orbits.

16.  As the launch window neared, students and their mentors, families, and friends gathered on the bleachers at the Banana Creek viewing area next to the Apollo/Saturn V building. An announcer invited each team to stand for applause.

17.  For high school juniors Connor Gregg and Merrick Jakelski, this launch was the culmination of two and a half years of work. Their team competed in the National Design Challenge with a proposal to study the folding of proteins related to Alzheimer’s disease on Earth and in microgravity. With support from CASIS and the Chicagoland Boy Scouts and Explorers, they built a miniaturized fluorescence spectrometer with 3D-printed parts of their own design. The whole experiment fits in a box that is barely larger than a soda can!

18.  At 4:30 pm, the Falcon 9 rocket roared upward in a flawless launch! Within ten minutes, the Dragon capsule had reached its orbital speed of 17,000 miles per hour. This launch demonstrated SpaceX‘s ability to recover, refurbish, and reuse major components:the Dragon had previously flown on CRS-8 (April 2016) and the rocket’s first stage had flown on CRS-12 (August 2017).

19.  After the launch, the student researchers and their guests had time to explore the Visitor Complex.

20.  On April 4, the Dragon capsule berthed with the Harmony module’s Earth-facing port, as shown in this artist’s rendering. Image credit: NASA

21.  On April 11, NASA Astronaut and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold started the first of two student experiments that won the 2017 Genes in Space competition. The Genes in Space winners traveled to Florida to attend the launch, but they didn’t get to watch it from the VIP location as planned. With their bus stuck in a four-hour traffic jam, they watched the launch from the highway! Image credit: NASA