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IB is going to Space

posted Nov 17, 2015, 2:43 PM by Marc Braden   [ updated Feb 2, 2016, 7:59 AM by Marissa Sarabando ]



Contact: Mark May


618-6023 or 451-1541

Jan. 22, 2016                                                                                                                    

From left to right, McAllen ISD students Juan Pablo Flanagan, Sabrina Benitez and Sofia Escobar work on aspects of an experiment

they researched and designed on January 20. Their proposal will be one of 23 experiments conceived by students in North America to be performed in space later

this spring as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. All three are students in McAllen ISD’s  International Baccalaureate Programme based at Lamar Academy.


Idea just 1 of 23 chosen in North America


A project by McAllen Independent School District students will be launched into space this spring. It’s one of only 23 selected from across the entire North American continent.

 Three students from Lamar Academy conceptualized and produced a scientific proposal which will achieve realization on the International Space Station Space Station.


“We are very proud that we get to be the first ones to do that,” Sofia Escobar, a student in McAllen ISD’s International Baccalaureate Programme based at Lamar Academy, student said.


McAllen ISD is one of fewer than two dozen communities participating in this national Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program called the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).  Astronauts will conduct each experiment.

 These students want to know if you can grow tomatoes on Mars? A mountain of research over six weeks resulted in a 15-page proposal.

 Wearing goggles that protect eyes that sparkle with curiosity, one student holds a plastic test tube while another uses a folded sheet of paper to funnel soil into the tube. Some packets of tomato seeds sit nearby.


“So right now were putting the earth soil and the tomato seeds into the tube that will be sent off into the International Space Station,” student Sabrina Benitez said. “We are conducting Earth trials to see how many seeds we are going to need for the actual experiment.”


With a steady succession of landers on Mars since the mid-1990s, data on the planet’s geology and weather has increased dramatically.


“We wanted to experiment with the possibilities of what can be grown there and if it would be toxic … or, if we would be able to consume it and how that would help create a human settlement on Mars,” Escobar said.


Recent revelations of the presence of water on the red planet sparked the idea.


“So we wanted to see if it was even possible to germinate seeds and possibly grow food on Mars,” Benitez said.


There was one problem though; where to find Martian soil on the Earth?    


“There was a volcano in Hawaii that had a very similar composition to the soil on Mars so we selected that one,” student Juan Pablo Flanagan said.  “We actually got ahold of it and spoke to the company.”


Multiple teams of students in McAllen ISD engineered proposals but theirs is the one selected to represent the district.


“They were selected by two different review boards,” Lamar Academy IB Chemistry Teacher Laura Nikstad said. “One local review board … and also a nationally recognized group of scientists.”


A love for science brought them together. Benitez aspires to become a doctor while Escobar plans to pursue bio-technology. Flanagan is considering medical school or law school.


“Our teachers, our staff here is very proud as well,” Flanagan said. “We worked very hard for this and it’s awesome to see that our hard work paid off at a national level.”


This is a student-driven endeavor. Students began on their original projects last fall. The student competition follows the approach used to select research projects designed by professional scientists.

 The SSEP is spearheaded by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESS), a nonprofit organization that inspires the next generation of scientists and engineers by engaging their natural human impulse to be curious and explore.

 The SSEP (http://ssep.ncesse.org) is undertaken by the NCESSE (http://ncesse.org) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC.

 This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.