Presidio science project is out of this world, earns flight on International Space Station
By ROBERT HALPERN
PRESIDIO – A real science project designed by three Presidio High School class of 2012 graduates blasts off to the International Space Station in September.
The project, “The Effect of Microgravity on the Growth and pH of Lactobacilli Acidophilus,” by PHS Class of 2012 graduates Alvaro Ali Romero, Illiana Fernandez, and Rafael Sanchez first catches a ride on the SpaceX Dragon that will rendezvous with the space station. Their science teacher is Melody Crowder.
The Presidio project was one of 11 to make the space station flight in a nationwide competition organized by The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) under its Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Almost 4,000 students submitted 1,125 proposals.
Here’s a synopsis of the ISS-bound Presidio project: Lactobacillus acidophilus bacterium resides in the human intestines aiding in providing a healthy intestinal tract. L. acidophilus has been used as a healing agent for some gastrointestinal disorders. These microorganisms are also used as probiotics and are commonly found in fermented dairy and other food products. Microgravity has been shown to affect the bone-mineral density causing loss of calcium from bones due to absence of earth’s gravity. This disrupts the process of bone maintenance in its major function of supporting body weight. This is called disuse osteoporosis. Another effect of microgravity is the disuse muscle atrophy which occurs when astronauts lack the natural resistance of gravity which keeps the muscles in good shape and causes muscle loss. This experiment is designed to test how microgravity affects the growth of L. acidophilus bacteria in order to determine if astronauts should be given supplemental probiotics to help maintain normal digestion and prevent bone loss. Without proper digestion the muscular and skeletal systems will not function efficiently.
Two more Presidio projects earned honorable mention status.
“Chemical Analysis of the Effect of Gravity on Capsicum Chinese ‘Habanero’”
is a Lucy Rede Franco Middle School seventh-grade project by Lisa Marie Peña, Juan Nieto, Vanessa Rohana, Alma Baeza and Maxwell Ferguson, with teacher Ernie G. Monte.
Project summary: Chili pepper is a daily part of our meals. Growing up in a Hispanic family in a US-Mexico border town, chili has been a prominent fixture in every menu for hundreds of years. Its popularity has crossed many borders including space. When it comes to living in space, taste has become a unifying element that transcends cultures and boundaries. So why not explore this hot topic? Studies show that chili can provide a variety of medicinal or health benefits that range from relieving pain to fighting cancer. The nutritive value of chili is largely determined by ascorbic acid content. In fact, chili pepper packs more vitamin C than an orange. In this experiment, we will conduct a chemical analysis of Capsicum chinense ‘Habanero’ after its exposure to two different gravitational conditions. The goal is to gain knowledge about the effect of microgravity on Habanero chili. Kloeris (2008), manager of ISS food systems at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston affirmed that food is just a big psychological thing and anyone that has flown to the space station has been concerned about their food. Providing them more flavorful food is the least we can do to alleviate the harsh conditions that these astronauts have to go through living in space. This and the insights on medicinal value of chili are the reasons why we pursue this hot topic.
Sanchez, Romero, and Fernandez with teacher Crowder also designed the honorable mention project, “Passive Diffusion Across a Semi-Permeable Membrane in Microgravity.”
The proposal summary states that the kidney is an organ in the human body that filters waste products from the blood. The kidney helps keep the blood clean and chemically balanced. It is essential in keeping the human body healthy and alive. Kidneys take wastes and excess water from the blood and turn it into urine which is stored in the bladder and expelled through the urethra. If the kidney malfunctions, the blood will collect excessive nitrogenous waste and toxic materials. If both kidneys fail it is necessary to undergo either hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis where blood is filtered and waste products are removed. This experiment models the function of the glomerulus of the kidney. It will simulate how individual kidney cells respond to microgravity where it demonstrates passive diffusion. The results of the study will provide information on the efficiency of passive diffusion of macromolecules such as proteins, in different gravitational conditions.
The NCESSE of Capital Heights, Maryland oversees national initiatives addressing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, with a focus on earth and space. Programs are designed to provide an authentic window on science as a human endeavor. Central objectives of the Center’s programs are to help ensure a scientifically literate public and a next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers – both of which are of national importance in an age of high technology.
Competition for the current round of projects was announced in November 2011. In late May, a NCESSE review board of scientists, engineers, and science educators met at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC to judge them.
The Presidio project gets to the ISS on the Dragon, a reusable spacecraft developed by SpaceX, an American private space transportation company based in Hawthorne, California. In May, the unmanned cargo ship became the first commercial spacecraft to rendezvous with the space station. Additionally, NASA awarded SpaceX a Commercial Crew Development Contract. The Dragon is planned to carry up to seven astronauts, or a combination of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit.
Mission 3 to ISS – the 5th SSEP flight opportunity – was announced April 29, 2012, with experiment design starting September 2012, and a flight to ISS in Spring 2013.
The current experiments were selected as part of Mission 2 to ISS in September, the fourth flight opportunity provided by America’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. The first two flight opportunities were on the final flights of Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis. The Aquarius payload of student experiments for the third SSEP flight opportunity – Mission 1 to ISS – is currently aboard ISS with 15 experiments.
The fifth SSEP opportunity is on Mission 3 in 2013.
NCESSE is a project of the Tides Center and a project partner is NanoRacks, a private concern formed in 2009 to provide quality hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station.
Corporate partners with Presidio ISD are Kleinman Consultants of Andrews, ETT – Electric Transmission Texas, S. Kanetzky Engineering, and Pfluger Associates Architects.
A civil and environmental engineering firm, Kleinman’s principals are siblings Ramon, Ruben and Vicky Carrasco, and all have ties to Presidio. ETT partnered with AEP to bring the new electricity power line to Presidio. Kanetzky helped with the solar panel electricity-generating project for the Presidio school district, and Pfluger designed Franco Middle School.
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