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El Paso Community College, Transmountain Early College High School and L.B. Johnson Elementary School, El Paso, Texas
Three students in a laboratory

El Paso Community College students Jesus, Michelle and Eduardo work on the TM 1000 Scanning Electron Microscope as they discuss the applicability of X-ray acquisition for reading their experimental results. Image Credit: SSEP

Experiment: The Effect of Microgravity on the Use of Cactus Mucilage for Water Purification

When El Paso schools embarked on this endeavor with the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, or SSEP, for the first time on STS-134, the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, we had no idea that in 2012 we would be making history again by placing an experiment aboard the International Space Station! By the time the current competition was announced, the students were well aware of SSEP and excited to again see posters for this real experiment design competition displayed across our college campuses. They had another opportunity to participate!

Many students came forward right away to sign up. The previous participants were eager to try again, even the earlier winning team from El Paso Community College. Racing against the clock, one team worked night shifts to put their proposal together. They turned out to be the happy winners of this year's competition. The other teams had worked very hard as well. They too were very engaged and competitive but accepted the reality that competition for limited resources is the means by which real science gets done.

Other students participated in the patch design contest. The winners in this competition were from the Transmountain Early College High School and from L.B. Johnson Elementary School, where all fifth-graders had designed patches. The two winning patches will join the experiment for the ride on SpaceX's Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station. The patches and the experiment will come back to Earth on a Russian Soyuz capsule, which will land in Kazakhstan. Then they will be flown back to the USA and returned to our schools.

The opportunity to have elementary, high school and college-level students working together to express their creativity and their passion for science and space travel adds a new dimension to science education. What an exciting new experience for our community!

We would like to thank the Texas Space Grant Consortium for making this remarkable opportunity possible for all our students.

To read about the other student experiments for Mission 1 to the International Space Station, visit http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/station-here-we-come.html.

Dr. Gertrud Konings-Dudin and Dr. Maria Alvarez/El Paso Community College