Wednesday, January 22, 2020
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Student science experiments going to space station

In June, 21 high school science projects will travel to the International Space Station, including a project involving phytoplankton from De’Aunte Johnson, Tailor Davis, and Binti Mohamed at East High School in Rochester, New York, PBS News Hour reports.

“As the United States and other countries move forward with space exploration, the idea eventually is to be able to establish colonies, either on the moon, other planets, right?” said Mary Courtney, a chemistry teacher at the high school. “And so you have got to be able when you’re—if you’re on Mars, you have got to be able to produce food.”

On Earth, students at the high school have been working with a spectrophotometer and adjusting the mixture in which the tiny plant organisms will live while they’re in space without any oxygen. The purpose is to determine how to keep cells alive during long exploratory missions deeper into space than we’ve ever gone and to help astronauts understand how they can grow their own food in space or on distant planets.

NASA will also send another new, nearly self-sufficient plant growth system to the ISS, which will join Veggie later this month aboard the space station. Veggie is NASA’s first fresh food growth system, and it’s already active on the ISS.

The new one is called the Advanced Plant Habitat, and astronauts aboard the ISS will use it to conduct plant bioscience research on the space station, NASA told Business Standard.

The system uses more than 180 sensors to send real-time information—temperature, oxygen content, moisture levels in the air and soil, near the plant roots, and at the stem and leaf level, etc.—back to the team at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“A big difference in this system, compared to Veggie, is that it requires minimal crew involvement to install the science, add water, and perform other maintenance activities,” the magazine quoted Bryan Onate, project manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, as saying.

The agency is now under pressure following budget cuts by President Donald Trump, to focus its resources more on its science mission and less on its climate change work.

Senator Harrison Schmitt, PhD, the lunar module pilot for NASA’s Apollo 17, recently wrote that a possible mission to Mars could easily be successful, given the success of the Apollo missions, which ultimately took Americans to the moon, nearly five decades ago.

“Congress should commit, as best it can, to an annual, inflation-adjusted funding level for the Moon-Mars-Deep Space Program that would insure the achievement of specific milestones as well as a permanent geopolitical commitment to deep space exploration,” he wrote to the US House Subcommittee on Space of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology last month.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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