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Experiment developed by upstate students heads to International Space Station

High school students in upstate New York watched as a rocket carrying one of their science experiments was launched Thursday. Its destination is the International Space Station orbiting the earth over 200 miles above us.

Vicki Aman and Cheyanne Jeffrey are in their senior year at Rochester Early College International High School (RECIHS). The team is hoping their research will contribute to our growing knowledge of life in space.

Watching the launch, Jeffrey described the feeling: “Really amazing. It’s like the feeling that we have now is so hard to explain. We’re speechless right now to find out that our project has been launched.”

Their project is one of 11 chosen from around the country to be sent to the international space station, and the only one from the upstate area to make the cut.

It takes place inside what’s basically a double-ended test tube. In one end there are about a dozen live water bears or tardigrades. They’re microscopic water organisms known for their ability to withstand just about any type of conditions.

They’re also known for their ability to come back to life after being dehydrated.  

“They’re supposed to come back to life. You can dry them out and then they come back to life. And so we’re going to see if that happens in microgravity,” says Mary Courtney, a science teacher at RECIHS.

She says astronauts will rehydrate the organisms in orbit while the students rehydrate their control batch of water bears at the school.

When the experiment returns to earth in March, they’ll see if the water bears that have been on the space station show any differences to their counterparts in the lab on earth.

Courtney says, whatever the results, the hope is that they’ll shed some light on how this type of organism can play a role in the future of life in space.

“If you look to the future of space colonization, you’re going to have to have food chains. And these types of organisms could be the basis for a food chain. So that’s why it’s important to look at their development,” she says.

Project creators Vicki and Cheyanne say their looking forward to studying the results. The girls say they’ve been energized by the experience and feel it will be valuable as they begin the process of college applications.

The shuttle carrying the experiment will dock with the International Space Station on Sunday. The project is taking place as part of the Student Flight Experiments Program.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail