The NanoRacks-National Center for Earth and Space Science Education-Falcon (NanoRacks-NCESSE-Falcon) investigation stems from a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education program called the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). Student teams across the United States design and build their own experiments using flight-approved fluids and other materials. The investigation includes 17 different science experiments that are flown in a NanoRacks module aboard the International Space Station. Experiments include studies on cell division in space; the effects of microgravity on seed germination and plant growth; differences in milk protein structure and bacteria growth; and others.
The following content was provided by Jeff Goldstein, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), launched by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC, is an extraordinary commercial U.S. national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiative that to date has provided students across the United States—middle and high school students (grades 5-12), and/or undergraduates at 2-year community colleges (grades 13-14)—the ability to design and propose real experiments to fly in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station (ISS).
Since program inception in June 2010, there have been six SSEP flight opportunities—SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, which were the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis; and SSEP Missions 1 through 4 to ISS. To date, 60 communities have participated in the program, with over 100,000 grade K-14 students across 540 schools given the opportunity to participate in their community-wide experience. A total of 21,600 grade 5-14 students were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, and 5,091 experiment proposals were submitted by student teams. To date, 14 communities have participated in 2, 3, or 4 flight opportunities, reflecting the sustainable nature of the program.
NanoRacks-National Center for Earth and Space Science Education-Falcon (NanoRacks-NCESSE-Falcon) includes the following 5 student experiments on Orbital-Demo-1:
What is the effect of farming in microgravity using hydroponics, and how is it different from plants grown on Earth using the same method?
Alpine Public School, Grade 8, Alpine, New Jersey
One pound of food can cost thousands to send into space, causing crewmember dining to be rather expensive. Food must be produced on Earth, processed, freeze-dried and then sent to the International Space Station (ISS). Through use of hydroponics, the method of growing plants in a nutrient solution instead of soil, crops can potentially be grown in microgravity. MixStix are used by inserting a lentil seed enclosed in porous foam in the main volume along with a hydroponic growth solution contained in the long ampule. While seeds germinate in microgravity, researchers observe the specimen’s xylem, phloem, and other structural characteristics. On Earth, this process relies heavily on gravitropism, which “tells” a plant the direction in which its root and stem should grow. If this experiment proves to be successful, it may lead to the dawn of farming in space. Hopefully, shipping food to the ISS will become a thing of the past. (CL-10009-1, S/N 1007)
The Effect of Microgravity on Chryseobacterium Aquaticum Growth
Lime Kiln Middle School, Grade 8, Howard County, Maryland
It is hypothesized that if Chryseobacterium aquaticum is exposed to microgravity, it grows faster, as previous studies show an increase in bacterial growth in microgravity. C. aquaticum is a unique bacterium due to its ability to live in harsh living conditions on Earth. It may be beneficial to future deep space explorations, as it produces anti-fungal enzymes that may encourage plant growth (Pragash et al 2009). This knowledge will potentially aid crewmembers in future space exploration. (CL-10009-2, S/N 1007)
The Effects of Microgravity on Eggshells and Vinegar
Howard Phifer Middle School, Grade 8, Pennsauken, New Jersey
Does the eggshell disintegration rate in vinegar differ in the presence of gravity and microgravity? When vinegar, containing 3% acetic acid, and eggshells, containing calcium carbonate, are combined, they react to form carbon dioxide. Eggshells are similar to human teeth because they are both made out of stone-like minerals, predominately calcium. The topic is of interest because eggshells and teeth both contain calcium carbonate. The reaction between the vinegar and the eggshells may represent the same reaction between acids and teeth. Researchers hope to learn the effect of vinegar on eggshells in order to help in the development of dental products used to protect teeth from acidic foods while in space. (CL-10009-3, S/N 1007)
Germination of Cabbage Seed
A.R. Turner, C.C. Hardy, and Parmley Elementary Schools, Grade 5, Willis, Texas
Will Brassica oleracea var sabuada, cabbage, seeds germinate in microgravity? Possessing the ability to grow cabbage in microgravity is beneficial for crewmembers because it provides nutrients and a source of fresh produce. Savoy cabbage seeds were chosen for this experiment because they are rich in thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate and manganese. Savoy cabbage seeds are hypothesized to germinate in microgravity. (CL-10009-4, S/N 1007)
Fibroblast Division in Microgravity
San Marino High School, Grade 11, San Marino, California
Cell division is an integral component of life; all organisms must go through the cell cycle in order to grow, develop, and reproduce. Past experiments conducted on Earth in simulated microgravity show the lack of gravity causes cells to divide at a slower rate. To gain further insight into cell division in microgravity, fibroblasts, cells critical in wound healing, are exposed to microgravity while two identical experiments are run on Earth as ground controls for later comparison. Once returned to Earth, fibroblasts are analyzed to compare the rates of cell division. Results obtained from this experiment hope to improve the conditions of future life in space. (CL-10009-5, S/N 1007)
NanoRacks-National Center for Earth and Space Science Education-Falcon (NanoRacks-NCESSE-Falcon) includes the following 12 student experiments on Orbital-1:
A Study of How Microgravity Affects the Activity of Enzymes in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Using the Model of Papain and Gelatin
West Shore Junior/Senior High School, Grade 10-12, Melbourne, Florida
Glutamate is an amino acid acting as a neurotransmitter. The amount of glutamate required by humans is miniscule and is manufactured by the body or obtained in whole foods. In the synaptic cleft between motor neurons, glutamate is normally deactivated and recycled by enzymes. In ALS patients, glutamate does not get broken down, but builds up to toxic levels, and eventually causes the neurons to die. As the neurons die, ALS patients lose control of voluntary muscles. This experiment serves as a model of the enzymatic breakdown of glutamate in the synapse. Because the actual systems require conditions not available on the International Space Station (ISS), a non-biological model was chosen. This experiment tests the effect of the enzyme papain (papaya extract) on the breakdown of proteins in gelatin by measuring the amount of protein remaining after the reaction. Researchers hypothesize the enzyme is able to function more effectively in a microgravity environment. (NRP-10009-4, S/N 1010)
Will cosmic radiation increase the rate of mutations in yeast’s DNA? Will an antioxidant from green tea decrease the rate of mutations in DNA?
Brant Argyle School, Grade 5, Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada
Can crewmembers decrease their risk of cancer by taking an antioxidant supplement while being exposed to space radiation? Two yeast samples are flown, one consisting of yeast and saline and another yeast and saline mixture with a supplement of an antioxidant derived from green tea. Once returned to Earth, samples are compared to ground controls that were ran simultaneously with the flight samples to determine the rate of damage to the yeast cells exposed to microgravity. Analysis also reveals if the antioxidant provided any form of protection to the yeast by decreasing the rate of mutations to the yeast’s DNA. (NRP-10009-3, S/N 1008)
Bacterial Growth on Meat
Capitol Hill Cluster School, Grade 7, Washington, DC
Historically, salts were used to preserve meats to prevent bacterial growth for an extended period of time. In order to improve food preservation for crewmembers, two pieces of meat, one salted and one unsalted are flown on the ISS. This experiment can potentially shed light on alternatives to freeze-dried food for crewmembers and visitors to outer space. The unsalted meat tests to see if bacteria grow on the meat in microgravity. The salted meat tests to see if, should bacteria grow on the meat, salt mitigates bacterial growth in microgravity. (NRP-10009-2, S/N 1008)
Does microgravity affect the growth of a Glycine max seed?
Waiakea Intermediate School, Grade 6, Hilo/Waiakea, Hawai’i
Glycine max seeds are flown on the International Space Station (ISS) while simultaneous ground studies occur. Once seeds are returned to Earth, researchers observe seed weight, length of cotyledons, and stage of growth. This experiment determines if microgravity affects seed growth. This is valuable information because if plants are capable of growing in space, they can be used as a renewable food source and carbon dioxide converter. Space travelers will be able to travel farther in the solar system and live in space stations for longer periods of time. (NRP-10009-3, S/N 1010)
The Effect of Microgravity on Bacterial Growth and its Resistance to Antibiotics
Valley Center High School, Grade 10 and 11, Valley Center, Kansas
Bacteria grown in space are more virulent, but does it make them resistant to antibiotics? This experiment monitors the effect of microgravity on the growth of staphylococcus intermedius and how it resists an antibiotic, ciprofloxacin. MixStix provide the ability to control when each “ingredient” is added to the experiment, allowing for precise results. Following its return, the MixStix are sent to Valley Center High School for analysis. (NRP-10009-6, S/N 1008)
Will Microgravity Alter the Regeneration of Dugesia Tigrina?
Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, Grade 10 and 12, Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Dugesia tigrinas and humans both regenerate cells through the use of pluripotent stem cells. Because pluripotent stem cells can specialize into any type of cell in an organism, discovering how these cells work has great potential in the medical field. D. tigrinas possess the capability of regenerating entirely new bodies from severed body parts using the pluripotent stem cells found in their bodies. In this experiment, a D. tigrina is cut halfway down to observe the effect microgravity takes on the regeneration or healing of the D. tigrina. It is hypothesized the D. tigrinas regenerate in a much larger volume than under normal conditions due to the lessened amount of force acting upon the new cells. The lack of gravity is believed to throw off the D. tigrinas sense of equilibrium and potentially lead to structural defects in the newly regenerated body structures. (NRP-10009-4, S/N 1008)
Antibiotic Efficiency in a Microgravity Environment
Traverse City West Senior High School, Grade 10, Traverse City, Michigan
People around the world are constantly exposed to different microbial organisms providing an opportunity for infection. Crewmembers face the same issue in space; however they do not have access to the Earthly amenities people are common to. When crewmembers travel to space they do not have access to a washing machine for clothes, a hospital for sickness, ample amounts of water, and are limited in their supply of antibiotics for treating infection. To protect crewmembers from infectious bacteria, this experiment tests the strength of an antibiotic, cephalexin, on a skin bacterium, Staphylococcus epidermidis, in microgravity. S. epidermidis is an opportunistic pathogen living on the skin of humans. It is harmless unless the prime condition presents itself, in the form of a wound, and then the infection will manifest. In this experiment, S. epidermidis is exposed to microgravity and treated with cephalexin. Once samples are returned to Earth, analysis is conducted to compare flight samples to ground controls, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of antibiotics in microgravity. (NRP-10009-10, S/N 1008)
Kidney Stone Growth in Space
Pleasanton Public School, Grade 11, Pleasanton and Callaway, Nebraska
Kidney stones are a very common medical condition because everyone is susceptible to them if they do not drink enough water. NASA researchers discovered an increase of kidney stone formation in crewmembers during space flight. Researchers want to test how microgravity affects the formation of calcium oxalate crystals in space to determine if more kidney stones form in microgravity than on Earth. Growth characteristics between the two environments are also distinguished and compared. This research aims to help scientists find a way to decrease the formation of kidney stones in microgravity. (NRP-10009-2, S/N 1010)
Mammalian Milk in Microgravity
New Explorations into Science, Technology, and Math, Grade 5, New York City, New York
Does mammalian milk spoil in microgravity the same way it does on Earth? More specifically, do bacteria grow differently in milk while exposed to microgravity? MixStix are used to encase this experiment. Once the MixStix is aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the powdered milk and water are mixed together and bacteria begin to grow. Once returned to Earth, bacterial content grown in microgravity is examined and compared to the bacterial content grown in ground controls. A “bacterial examination of milk kit” is used to conduct a standard plate count, a direct microscopic count, and a dye reductase test of the two milk samples. Researchers hypothesize the microgravity milk sample grows fewer bacteria than the ground control sample. (NRP-10009-1, S/N 1010)
Geotropism in Microgravity
STEM Early College at NC A&T, Grade 9, Guilford County, North Carolina
Geotropism is the process in which gravity effects the positioning of a plant. Science suggests auxin concentrations are the possible driving force behind geotropism. Gravity helps a plant determine the directions up and down in order to position itself. No matter what position plants are placed, the roots and cotyledon will always grow in opposite directions. Researchers want to determine if the laws of geotropism apply in microgravity. This experiment focuses on plant seed germination and determines if the roots and the cotyledon grow in opposite directions despite the lack of gravity. (NRP-10009-5, S/N 1008)
How does bacterial growth and subsequent decay of enamel on pig teeth differ in a microgravity environment compared to on Earth?
West Salem High School, Grade 9, Salem, Oregon
How is bacterial growth and decay on pig teeth affected by microgravity? A pig’s tooth is divided and coated in three sections, 1/3 with a paraffin coating for protection, 1/3 with a 5% sucrose agar, and the last 1/3 left untreated. Upon flight, crewmembers use the MixStix to mix powdered bacteria with a rich Thioglycolate Broth, a sugar nutrient source for the bacteria, to initiate growth. Upon completion, another reservoir of the MixStix is broken to kill and preserve the bacteria. Once the MixStix is returned to Earth, researchers analyze and compare the teeth to identical teeth ran in a ground control study. (NRP-10009-5, S/N 1010)
Denaturation of the Protein Casein in Microgravity
Eastside High School, Grade 12, Wise County, Virginia
Under normal conditions, milk is a homogenous mixture, remaining evenly dispersed throughout. When an acid is added to the mixture, the pH level drops and the liquid begins to separate. When milk and acetic acid are combined on Earth, the protein casein is denatured and can no longer stay dissolved in the mixture. This experiment aims to extract casein in microgravity to determine if this phenomenon occurs without the force of gravity. Once the casein exposed to microgravity returns to Earth, researchers compare these samples to ground controls to determine the impact microgravity takes on the protein. (NRP-10009-1, S/N 1008)
The experiments on Orbital-Demo-1are activated by flexing the liquid mixing containers. On Orbital-1the MixStix are unclamped to activate. The MixStix are returned to the student teams. Each team unseals their MixStix, harvests the samples and compares to their ground truth experiments, analyzes results, and presents results at the SSEP National Conference at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.