Educator Features

Growing As Scientists
11.07.07
Two plastic growth chambers attached to a white surface on the space station

Small plant growth chambers are being used to grow basil and lettuce on the International Space Station as part of an experiment growing plants in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA

As NASA prepares to return to another world, the agency is working with students from all over this one to get ready for the journey.

In celebration of International Education Week: Fostering Global Citizenship and Respect, NASA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Education for a special event on Nov. 15, 2007. The activity will focus on the NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber.

When astronauts return to the moon, they will establish an outpost where people will be able to live for months at a time. NASA is studying the possibility of growing plants on the lunar surface as a way to minimize the resources that must be sent to sustain the outpost.

In the NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber, elementary, middle and high school students design, build and evaluate their own lunar plant growth chambers. The challenge leverages the excitement of spaceflight to provide students with hands-on experience with the scientific method, and it encourages the engineers and scientists of tomorrow to think about the challenges involved in space exploration. The plant growth chamber challenge supports NASA's goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

A pond in front of the National Arboretum building

The International Education Week event will be held at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
Image Credit: U.S. National Arboretum

The Nov. 15 International Education Week activity will give students the opportunity to get input from experts on the plant growth chamber challenge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's U.S. National Arboretum, in Washington, D.C., and the Herb Society of America will host the event.

Students at the nearby Arlington Science Focus School in Virginia have been invited to attend, and to display the plant growth chambers they have created and in which they planted basil seeds that flew on the STS-118 space shuttle mission. A U.S. National Arboretum plant scientist, a NASA engineer and a representative of NASA's Office of Education will review the students' efforts and provide feedback. The experts will also answer questions from the students.

The students will also hear from three more experts on spaceflight -- astronauts who flew on the STS-118 space shuttle mission in the summer of 2007. In keeping with the international theme, the astronauts will represent both NASA and an international partner agency. NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Barbara Morgan and the Canadian Space Agency's Dave Williams will talk about the international cooperation that will be necessary to grow food on the lunar surface. They will also answer students' questions.

Other representatives of NASA, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. National Arboretum and the Herb Society of America will be present at the event.

Cooperation between space agencies from many nations is an important part of today's International Space Station program, and it will remain vital as humans return to the moon. Thanks to efforts like the International Education Week event, NASA is working to ensure that a strong global community of scientists and engineers will be ready to continue the journey and to foster global citizenship and respect.

Related Resources
NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
NASA Education Web Site  →
STS-118
U.S. National Arboretum  →
2007 International Education Week  →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services