An astronomical project

Aaron Krause • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:15 PM

Local residents may not be aware of the other survivor challenge that has been taking place at Main Street School.

It is out of this world.

Actually, this otherworldly challenge isn’t just about surviving, but thriving and growing.

Teacher Marcy Burns’ fifth-grade students have been comparing the germination and growth rates of earth-based basil seeds and those that were aboard the International Space Station. The latter, which were carried back to earth by astronaut Barbara Morgan, had been exposed to the harsh conditions of space.

 The project is part of a NASA challenge for students, in anticipation of the need for research into lunar plant growth. NASA scientists anticipate astronauts may be able to grow plants on the moon and the plants could be used to supplement meals.

Plants will provide fresh food, oxygen and reminders of home, according to online information from NASA about the project.

Through the NASA Engineering Design Challenge, elementary, middle and high school students were to design, build and evaluate lunar plant growth chambers. Seeds, both lunar and earth based, were available to teachers throughout the U.S.

Burns was one of the registrants who applied for and received seeds.

“I have friends in high places in NASA,” Burns joked.

The project the students conducted was no joke. They began planting the seeds the day after spring break and Tuesday marked the 64th day. The students worked in teams to design growth chambers for plants that would enable a food and oxygen supply on the moon. The students picked random dates to measure the growth rates.

Every plant got the same amount of light, fertilizer and water.

The general consensus: The space seeds looked greener and appeared healthier.

But, some students who planted earth seeds found the opposite to be true.

So what’s the answer?

“There’s no answer; it’s scientific research,” Burns said. “The answer is we need more research.”

Paige Thompson, who grew an Earth-based seed, said she was surprised it grew as tall as 16 centimeters.

Noah Hicks planted a space seed and said it grew to 14 centimeters.

“It’s kind of cool that we get to place space seeds,” Hicks said. “We’re really special, not a lot of schools get to plant space seeds.”

Burns said she will let students take the plants home. Several of the youngsters said they would put them in their garden.

Zaccaheus Hunter had a more ambitious idea.

He said, if his mother lets him, he’ll “knock out a wall for a closet and put all space stuff in there.”

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