Bellevue eighth-graders launch experiment aboard the International Space Station

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- The Open Window School in Bellevue celebrated the launch of an experiment designed by eighth graders that is now aboard the International Space Station.

In an all-school assembly on Friday, two of the three students, Subi Lumala and Catherine Whitmer, presented their experiment to their peers. Their third teammate, Vivienne Rutherford, was absent for the day.

Lumala and Whitmer returned from Florida recently where they watched the Falcon 9 Space-X rocket take off from the Kennedy Space Center with their experiment on board.

“I didn’t think that our little seeds would be going up to space," said Whitmer.

In the fall of 2015, students at the Open Window School took part in Student Spaceflight Experiments Program  Fifty teams of fourth- through eighth-grade students worked on proposals for microgravity experiments, which were reviewed in a two-step process. This 2-step proposal review process modeled a real call for research proposals by an organization such as NASA, NSF, or NIH.

The launch was delayed 11 times. Lumala and Whitmer say they were elated the rocket finally took off.

The head of school, Jeff Strobel, believes that SSEP offered a unique opportunity for Open Window School students.

“Participation in SSEP has offered our students an experience that they will remember the rest of their lives. Far more than learning science, they have had the opportunity to be scientists, developing an experiment structured identically to the work of the world’s leading researchers," said Strobel.

Lumala and Whitmer's experiment looks into how a specific seed, aradabadopisis, germinates in simulated Martian soil conditions.

"Aradabadopisis is really well-tested upon," said Lumala.

Astronauts will conduct the experiment to the students’ specifications over a period of 4-6 weeks while the experiment is in flight. After each interaction, astronauts will communicate with the students via an online experiment log so the Open Window School students can conduct their Ground Truth (control) experiments here at the school on the same timeline.

“We got a lot of sprouts here on Earth so we’re hoping with this, that it’s possible to grow things on Mars with their lower gravity and different soil," explained Whitmer.

The experiment is housed in tubes with three compartments. The astronauts will open the compartments and shake the components so the soil containing seeds and water will mix.

"After 14 days, they’re going to un-clamp this blue part and the formalin in this blue part will halt the growth so we can get the results back to Earth," said Whitmer.

The students were mentored by staff members.

Strobel said, "It just confirms what we believe about our kids, that with the right opportunities and talented teachers kids can do amazing things.”

The team prepared the experiment for flight this fall after walking through test runs last spring. The experiment had to be specially designed to work within the constraints of a Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME) research mini-laboratory and pass a NASA Flight Safety Review.