3 student experiments duke it out to be performed on the International Space Station

Students listen to a guest speaker at an event Friday, May 27, 2016 that acknowledged all their hard work up to this point.
Students listen to a guest speaker at an event Friday, May 27, 2016 that acknowledged all their hard work up to this point.
Courtesy of iLead schools

The top three groups of kids from Southern California’s iLead charter schools chosen as finalists to compete in this year’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program now have to bring their best science game for a chance to have their experiments performed by real astronauts in a lab. In space.

In the running for a trip to space and Washington D.C. — where the groups will present their proposals at a conference at the Smithsonian Institution — are experiments that test the effects of microgravity on oxidation, whether earthworms can hatch in space and the effectiveness of biocence outside of Earth’s atmosphere. All of the finalists are 8th-11th graders.

An event was held Friday to announce which group’s experiment would travel from SoCal to the International Space Station — but there were some technical difficulties.

NanoRacks, which works with NASA, tests the experiments to make sure they are suitable to go to the station — but their decision was postponed for next week. This minor glitch was actually another learning experience for the students, Kathleen Fredette of iLead schools told KPCC. She said it’s emblematic of the inner workings of the science world.

“Sometimes there are due dates that we are expecting and they’re not fulfilled and that’s just part of the deal. It’s another exposure for our kids to how science really works,” she said.

The students have spent months drafting their proposals in scientific language, like real professionals would. Many were able to reach out to local — and not so local — scientists for advice and input, Fredette said. Guidance was sought from as far as London.

“We’re not just pretending, we’re actually authoring and figuring out an experiment that could be run,” she said.

Friday’s event also announced the winners of the Mission Patch art competition, where students in grades K-12 were asked to create a patch that would accompany the winning experiment to the space station. The two patch champs were both elementary students — one in kindergarten.

iLead plans to participate in next year’s competition, Fredette said. Once a project is selected, the mission is set to launch into space in February 2017.

The program, launched in 2010, is an initiative by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NASA.