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Kettle Run students send science experiments to space

Wednesday, Jun. 4 | By Fauquier Times Staff
Courtesy Photo.
While it might be a little far-fetched to think 11 Kettle Run High School students could journey into space this summer, it’s not so fanciful to think their science experiments could make the trip. That’s exactly what will happen on June 26 when a research rocket will launch from Wallops Island, VA, with 12 Kettle Run science experiments on board.

Sending experiments into space will be KRHS students Madison Parsons, Eion Keating, Hunter Khalathari, Gabrielle Keiser, Savannah Johnson, Kristina East, Gabby Macari, Claire Downey, Reece Cook, Tony Rocca and Ben Woods, who had three experiments accepted into the Cubes in Space program. Thirty-one Kettle Run students submitted proposals to the program, but only 13 of the experimental payloads were selected.

Sponsored by Rubik Learning, “Cubes in Space” requires participants to fit scientific experiments into a 40mm cube. The no-cost competition is actually designed for middle school students to develop STEM-based experiments for launch into space. When the program first became available, it caught the eye and interest of Bill Davidson, career and technical education teacher at Kettle Run. There was one slight problem, though: Davidson’s students are high schoolers, not middle schoolers.

“I contacted [Cubes in Space] to express interest in participating and lamented that it was not available to high school students,” he explained. Eventually opportunity came knocking at Mr. Davidson’s door thanks to his past collaborations with Rubik Learning’s director of global education.

“Cubes in Space found a way to make it happen. When it became available to me, I asked if I could open up the opportunity to the science department at our school, and they were cool with it,” he said, “so we spent a few days writing proposals, and 13 of the proposals were selected.” (Unfortunately, one of the selected proposals – by student Dylan Wallace – won’t be able to participate because the short window of time worked against him; Dylan hoped to send cancer cells into space.)

The Cubes in Space program gave the Kettle Run students the opportunity to learn about the methodology for taking an idea from design through the review process. By early May they had to create a succinct proposal presentation explaining and pitching their experimental design as part of their application for spaceflight. A panel of educators, engineers, corporate professionals and university students evaluated the proposals and selected 100 winning designs, which were announced in mid-May, giving students a couple weeks to integrate their experimental payload for launch on June 26.

What cosmos-bound cubes were spawned at Kettle Run? Here’s the rundown:
 Madison Parsons is experimenting with lichen.
 Eion Keating is testing how much radiation is absorbed into wood.
 Hunter Khalathari is experimenting with a spider egg sack.
 Ben Woods is sending up three cubes: one is a test with magnets, another is Silly Putty malleability, and the third will test the effects of space radiation on yeast.
 Gabrielle Keiser and Savannah Johnson together are experimenting with a Twinkie.
 Kristina East is testing E. coli.
 Gabby Macari is doing a magnetic attraction experiment.
 Claire Downey is testing the reproductive rate of algae.
 Tony Rocca is testing the effects of space travel on a memory card.
 Reece Cooke – having learned that cactus plants absorb radiation – is testing whether cactus seeds will absorb radiation and protect other seeds from radiation during space flight.

Student Tony Rocca said when he heard about the opportunity to send an experiment into space, he was very much into the idea.

“During class I began to research the internet for things that are abnormal in space. I found that radiation in space is a major issue. Realizing the harmful ways of radiation, I decided to test if an SD [memory] card would be affected by these rays,” he said. “I hope to discover that radiation does affect electronic memory and that my photos stored on the card come back changed.”

Reece Cook said he based his experiment off of a myth he discovered during research.

“Many people believe that putting a cactus plant or a sunflower next to your computer absorbs radiation that your computer releases,” he said. “Since I couldn’t put a living plant into space, I had to settle for putting the seeds of the plants in my cube. I also put a tomato seed in the cube to serve as a base point of the radiation levels. I hope
to discover the seeds have absorbed radiation and if so, I hope to see the radiation stay within the plant through the growing process.”

Both Tony and Reece were appreciative of this unique scientific opportunity.

“The fact that I’m sending something into space is an incredible feat,” said Tony. “I can tell people that, ‘Yeah, I sent an experiment into space, no big deal.’” He said he found it rewarding that someone thought his experiment was “cool enough to send into space” and he wouldn’t have missed it. “This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is something I would have never passed up,” he said.

Reece added, “The opportunity to send an object into space is truly once in a lifetime. Thanks to Mr. Davidson’s connections, we’re able to participate in this event. I am extremely eager to see my cube upon its return, not just so I can carry out the experiment, but also just to have such a unique artifact.” Reece said he put three different types of seeds in his cube, and he plans on planting them when they return. “Even if my experiment is a bust, I will be thrilled to have been able to participate in such a cool activity,” he said.

Kettle Run earth science teacher Nikki Jenkins said she was very excited that her students had the opportunity to participate in Cubes in Space.

“I love seeing the enthusiasm that the students had when this unique opportunity was presented to them,” she said.
Two of her students – Gabrielle (Belle) Keiser and Savannah Johnson – came up with an experiment involving a Twinkie.

“We are sending up a Twinkie wrapped in tin foil, and when it comes back, we want to see if the tin foil has protected it,” said Belle. “We want to see if there are any physical changes and radiation. If there is no radiation, we’ll test the taste to see if space changes its taste.”

“We hope to see what type of protection we will need for regular food when scientists make civilization on Mars,” said Savannah.

On June 2 Mr. Davidson shipped the 12 cubes to Colorado for final review and preparation; they will be sent back to Wallops Island Spaceport where they will be subjected to a vibration test to simulate launch and landing in the ocean. They will then be loaded into the rocket, and on June 26 they will launch into space.

Along an arced path, the rocket will ascend 65 miles, float there for a while and then plummet to earth until the parachutes deploy. The rocket will float in the Atlantic until it is recovered by NASA and towed back to Wallops Island. The plan is for the Kettle Run students to receive their payloads back in order to observe the effects of spaceflight on their experiment.

“All in all, it is a pretty awesome opportunity,” said Mr. Davidson. “What a cool thing to put on a college essay: ‘In 2014 I sent an experiment into space

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