The Mission Continues
The STS-118 mission may be over, but the mission to inspire students continues for astronaut Barbara Morgan.
Morgan is a teacher who trained to become an astronaut. She spent 13 days in space in August 2007 on the STS-118 mission to the International Space Station. She was busy during those two weeks. Morgan operated the space shuttle’s robotic arm. The arm helps move things and people outside the shuttle.
She also was in charge of moving supplies between the shuttle and the station. The space shuttle took enough clothes, food and science experiments for the astronauts on the space station to use for a year. The shuttle brought back to Earth about 5,000 pounds of trash, old equipment and science experiments.
Morgan's work continues here on Earth. She is using her experiences as a teacher and an astronaut to inspire students to answer new questions about space exploration, questions like how to grow plants on the moon.
Plant growth will be an important part of space exploration in the future. NASA plans to send humans to the moon for months at a time. Astronauts may be able to grow plants on the moon in plant growth chambers. The plants could be used to prepare food.
A NASA Engineering Design Challenge invites students to design and build a plant growth chamber that could be used to grow plants on the moon. The plant growth chamber is like a small greenhouse. Students will test their chambers by growing cinnamon basil seeds that rode to space and back with Morgan on the STS-118 mission.
During the challenge, students will do the same work engineers and scientists do when planning NASA missions. "We took the seeds up because we want them to do what we get to do," Morgan said. "Rather than read about what scientists do, do what scientists do, and allow our young people to experience the joys of working as a scientist and working as an engineer."
Morgan hopes NASA can collect new ideas from students' designs. "Some of them may be working models and contributions for us going back to the moon," Morgan said.
The STS-118 mission also took two small growth chambers into space. Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Clay Anderson used the chambers to grow plants on the space station. Anderson grew cinnamon basil in one chamber and lettuce in the other. He took photos of the plants inside the chambers every other day for nearly three weeks. The purpose of Anderson's experiment was to show how small plastic chambers can be used to grow plants in space where there is less gravity than on Earth. Students can compare the results from their plant growth chamber experiments with Anderson's results.
Morgan also wants students to ask their own questions. "I want them to look deep in themselves and dig up their curiosities and find out what they want to learn and know about our world and universe and space exploration and ask those questions," she said. "Some of them we can help answer, and most of them we hope they will explore and find their own answers.
"I think space exploration is such a great motivator for kids to ask never-ending, open-ended questions. All good learning starts with curiosity."
Barbara Morgan Profile →
Clay Anderson Profile →
STS-118 Shuttle Mission
NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
International Space Station Plant Growth Chamber Experiment
NASA Education Web Site →
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services