Gatesville, Texas, students prepare experiment samples headed for International Space Station
Six Gatesville, Texas, High School students and their teacher are working with NASA and university scientists to load biological samples for delivery to the International Space Station early next year.
"This opportunity opens the students eyes to so much of the world beyond," said LaVonda Popp, who teaches chemistry, physics and biology at Gatesville. Popp accompanied her students to this weeks workshop at Sci-Quest a hands-on science museum in Huntsville, Ala.
The workshop was sponsored by the Microgravity Research Program Office at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville the lead center for flying space payloads that take advantage of the low-gravity environment created as the Space Station orbits Earth.
"Many of the students didnt know much about the space program, and this exciting, educational program exposes them to careers and different areas of science conducted in space," said Popp.
Gatesville is a small, rural town near Austin, Texas, and half the students attending the workshop had never traveled beyond the state of Texas, said Popp.
"Its really thrilling that even students can be part of one of the first experiments on the International Space Station," said Bobby Hill, a Gatesville freshman.
The students are learning about proteins and other biological substances that do everything from delivering medicine to helping the body carry out important functions. At the hands-on workshop, they grew crystals the way scientists produce them in Earth-based labs.
The students also loaded flight samples into small plastic tubes, which were then frozen. Later, these samples will be loaded into the Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen Dewar experiment, a thermos-like container that the Space Shuttle Atlantis will transport to the Space Station during the STS-98 mission in late January 2001.
"We are pleased to have the first students from Texas loading samples that will soon be on the way to the International Space Station," said Ron Porter, Biotechnology Program manager at the Marshall Center. "Its a great way for students to learn about how the Space Station can be used for biochemistry experiments."
About 100 samples including those from Texas and around 400 other samples from scientists will remain on the Space Station for about a month. Crystals will form, and then be brought back to Earth on another Space Shuttle flight.
Some of the crystals will be returned to the students so that they can compare them to crystals grown in their classrooms. Through a Web site, the students will monitor the results as Dr. Alex McPherson -- a biochemist at the University of California, Irvine and the lead scientist for the experiment -- analyzes other crystals grown aboard the same flight. Often, higher quality crystals can be grown in the low-gravity environment created as the Space Station circles Earth.
NASA has invited the Texas students and other students from across the country who have participated in the workshops to watch the Space Shuttle as it launches in January carrying their experiments to the Space Station.
The Gatesville students were selected by winning a statewide essay competition sponsored by the Texas Space Grant Consortium in Austin. Last year, two Texas teachers attended NASA crystal-growing workshops and trained numerous teachers across the state. Students from several Texas cities grew crystals in their classrooms.
Other sponsors of this educational activity include the University of California at Irvine; the University of Alabama in Huntsville; the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, and the Sci-Quest hands-on science museum.