Ready for Launch! Lufkin’s Experiment and Mission Patches are headed to the ISS

An original flight experiment developed by Lufkin Middle School students Shariah Jackson and Abedeel McGrew was selected for testing on the International Space Station (ISS) in this year’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 14 to the ISS. The experiment along with Lufkin’s winning mission patches is projected to launch on the SpaceX-21 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. on December 2, 2020.

The Lufkin team’s selected experimental proposal, “Can Radish Seeds Develop in Microgravity?” aims to determine if radish seeds can germinate in weightlessness. Radishes seeds germinate within 10 days with a crop maturing within 22 to 70 days. Radishes contain vitamins A, C, E, and B6. They can also provide an immunity boost for the body, and are known to be beneficial for the heart. Radishes are a healthy food source. If radish seeds are able to germinate and mature in microgravity, this would be an excellent food source for astronauts aboard the ISS.

The experiments traveling to the ISS have to follow strict constraints with one of those being that the experiment must fit into a very small container called a Fluid Mixing Enclosure (FME). The Lufkin team prepared two FME labs, one for the ISS, and the other to stay on Earth. They also prepared a third FME to serve as a control experiment where the seeds receive all the abiotic elements needed to grow under normal conditions in the presence of gravity. The experiment on Earth will be conducted in the same time frame and conditions as the experiment on the ISS. The mini lab on the ISS will be kept in the dark except for short periods of time when the astronauts are interacting with the experiment and kept at a temperature between 22-24 degrees Celsius. The variable being testing for the radish seed germination experiment is microgravity. The experiment will spend between 4 to 6 weeks in orbit before returning to Lufkin, where the students will then complete a final analysis of their experiment.

Honorable Mention experiment project finalists include “Does Milk have a Decreased Bacteria Growth in Microgravity?” developed by Austin Brown and Nolan Hansard and “Culinary Lavender Germination” developed by Brianna Adame, Perla Garcia, and Marlee Jones.

As part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), Lufkin Middle School Art Department and five Lufkin ISD elementary schools had a mission patch contest. A total of nine finalist patches were submitted by the local competitions. The winning lower grade level patch for Lufkin was designed by Cami Hartzog, and the winning upper grade level patch was designed by Paola Diaz. In September 2020 SSEP ran a competition to select the two Official Mission Patches for SSEP Mission 14 to the International Space Station (ISS) with communities across the nation voting. The two Official Mission Patches were selected from the Mission 14 communities’ 56 Flight Patches flying with their flight experiments. Cami and Paola’s patches were selected as the overall winners in the competition. Replicas of their patches will be affixed to the outside of one of the Mission 14 payload boxes containing the 33 flight experiments.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the U.S., and its International arm the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education for communities internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

Lufkin ISD Community and Vision

Lufkin ISD’s vision for STEM is to inspire, engage and prepare our next generations to be the inventors, explorers and innovators who will lead nationally in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As a district, we are committed to preparing our students for careers in the STEM fields. STEM education has become a focus of our superintendent, school board and our community. We presently offer a STEM Prep program in sixth through eighth grades that prepares students to apply to our STEM Academy Program in high school. Our high school students are also prepared to graduate with a STEM Endorsement. At Lufkin ISD students are given the opportunity to think, design and participate in programs that emphasize independent thinking and reasoning. Our mission is to teach students how to think. We want our students to create instead of consume knowledge. Moving students from being only consumers to creators is critical to America’s future.

Program Scope

Lufkin Independent School District has a strong commitment to STEM/STEAM education and is excited to participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 14 to the International Space Station (ISS). This was Lufkin’s first experience with SSEP, so it was important to ensure a manageable project so appropriate support was readily available to participating students and teachers. Thus, 100 seventh grade students piloted the program through the seventh grade STEM team at Lufkin Middle School from September-November 2019. Science STEM teacher, Amy Rush facilitated the program as it corresponds to the seventh-grade science curriculum. Three representative teachers from language arts, mathematics, and social studies were available to support student team planning and execution of the projects.

Suzy Jungmann, LISD STEM Coordinator assisted with the planning, coordinating, and administration of the program. Dr. Dennis Gravatt, Professor of Biology from Stephen F. Austin State University served as the professional advisor and helped the students with project research and development. The students worked in teams of no more than 3 students to design real microgravity experiments that could be carried out on the International Space Station. A minimum of 33 proposals for flight experiments were submitted by student teams as a result of this practice, and one finalist was selected. In addition to the experiment, our district conducted a two-patch art and design competition for lower grade and upper grade students. The competition had two categories – a lower grade division (4th grade students), with 560 designs submitted and an upper grade division (6th-8th grade students enrolled in an art elective class), with 772 designs submitted.

A press conference is scheduled next month for the students to have the opportunity to explain their projects and patches.