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Queens Chronicle

Space-bound school projects explode

Flushing students’ science research to be conducted on space station

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Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2014 10:30 am

Five middle-school students from the World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing were poised to have their science project launched into space— until the rocket that was supposed to be carrying them exploded Tuesday night.

The experiment is one of 17 winners of a competition sponsored by the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. WJPS is the only school in New York state to get a winning experiment selected and conducted their own internal competition to find a winner.

Michael Fourniotis, Ethan Reres, Jamila Tejada, Raul Castrejon and Gabriella Marin designed an experiment to test whether chia seeds grown in microgravity on the International Space Station will experience a faster growth rate than those down on Earth. If the kids are right that they will, chia seeds could serve as a food source alternative to dehydrated meals for astronauts.

“My favorite part of the project is the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing something important and that what we’re doing can actually help someone,” Marin said.

After several delays, the projects were set to be launched Tuesday night aboard the unmanned resupply spacecraft Cygnus from NASA’s Flight Facility on Wallop’s Island, Va. The rocket suffered a fatal malfunction and exploded on launch.

Despite the explosive setback, the projects are still expected to head into space at some point in the future.

The students were overseen by their Seventh grade STEM teacher Christian VanDeurs and Mark Baribault along with Principal Cynthia Schneider and Vice Principal Nancy Poulos. The project, which included several steps of research and proposal writing before designing the experiment, was a true team effort.

“We all got to meet up once a day and get our research done and work on the proposal as a whole,” Reres explained.

“I had fun working with my friends on the project. If I had worked with people I barely knew on it, it wouldn’t have been as much fun,” Tejada added.

WJPS integrates journalism training into all of its courses, even science ones. Students not directly working on proposals for the contest still got involved.

“They were filming the progress for broadcast or creating patch designs for the art program. The school newspaper had it. The whole school was involved,” VanDeurs said.

The experiment itself involves growing chia seeds in a nanotube on the ISS and then comparing growth to seeds grown in a tube on Earth. Scientists on the space station will synchronize the beginning of the experiment with the kids and then each will be conducted for 12 days. The tubes contain several sections of water, air, carbon dioxide and the seeds. Formaldehyde in the tubes will preserve the plants until they return to Earth for measurement.

The trial-and-error nature of the experiment excited Fourniotis and Castrejon.

“I liked figuring out how much water to actually put into the tube,” Fourniotis said.

“The trial and error was kind of emotional, it’s like ‘Oh, that didn’t work, I’m so mad!’ or the excitement of ‘Oh, this finally works!’” Castrejon said.

Welcome to the discussion.