BULLARD – To space and beyond!

A science experiment submitted by a four-member freshman team at Bullard High School will be included in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program's (SSEP) Mission 9 to the International Space Station this spring.

Twenty-one qualifying schools were selected nationwide, with Bullard one of three from Texas, Superintendent Todd Schneider said during a press conference Friday at the Bullard ISD administration building.

The competition “was the beginning of what I saw was a great project. The whole thing involved more than 360 students in the end,” he said. “This is what we are truly looking for in education: We get competitive thought processes going in the students about real things happening that are happening in this world, exposing them to global education … it wasn't about the grade thing, it was about trying to be that winning group for an experiment that can be done thousands and thousands of miles from us.”

According to a press release, the experiment “Microgravity's Effect on Solanum Tuberosum Resistance to Phytophthora infestans” – designed by Bullard High School freshmen Emma Rhyne, Valerie Vierkant, Raelee Walker and Emmalie Ellis – is the school's winning submission for the Mission 9 of the SSEP, sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

A review board at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum selected winners in December, and experiments will undergo official NASA toxicology flight safety review next month, according to the release. A projected launch of the SSEP “Endeavor” payload of experiments are projected to launch in late Spring 2016, the release noted.

“The experiment will travel to the International Space Station, where astronauts will conduct the experiment before it is returned to students for harvesting and analysis,” the release states.

District instruction coordinator Amanda Goode said the three-part process immersed “students in real-world science” and learning as they strived to create an experiment that fit inside a quarter-inch test tube.

“Often times, students ask why they need to learn it, and they're not ever going to use it again. This gave them the opportunity to understand the whys and also how they use science in the real world,” she said. “(Projects) were supposed to mimic what researchers in the real world do.”

Students incorporated all aspects of learning, as they drew on their knowledge of a variety of subjects.

“The driving force was science, but we also integrated English, art, technology within the program and math will pull in when they get the data back, when the group analyze all the statistics that come back,” Goode said.

Not only will students have what Goode calls “real-world experience,” their work is part of the history of the space program, “which is pretty awesome, to be 14, 15, 16 years old and actually be a part of history. Their experiment and all that documentation will be out there forever for all to see.”

And that's a possibility that excites BHS junior Hunter Ganske, who with teammates   Jake Timme and Tucker Pine proposed the experiment “The Dissolving of Kidney Stones in Microgravity.”

“Here's this project, something national, something that scientists at NASA can actually use in the future to help reduce risks or use for experimentation. We might not get sent to space, but this puts something in NASA's mind,” he said.

The best part about participating in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competition is that  “it is actual hands-on stuff that you can do,” Ganske said. “That's one of the complaints that I have personally, we don't get to do a whole lot of experiments like I want to, and this lets you have a feel, a grasp for it. It teaches you a whole other perspective.”

The kidney stone project was among the school's top three experiments. “The Effects of E. coli on Shark-like Skin in Microgravity,” by Trevor Johnson, Elise Humphries, Matthew Bradley, Ashley Kethan and Alyssa Fowler, also was part of the top three.

“Everybody has those kind of hopes 'I want to be the finalist,' but never in my wildest dreams would I be in the top three for the school, because I heard really good ideas,” Ganske said, adding that the real challenge of the competition “was trying to figure out something that applies to every day life for scientists, but that's small enough to fit into a tube that's a quarter of an inch, or half an inch wide.”

Also during the press conference, BHS students Avery Ruffin and Peyton Moore, who designed patches for the SSEP Mission 9, were recognized.

The release states that according to NCESSE, the purpose of the programs such as SSEP is to empower students as scientists and provide real-world experience.

Additional information about SSEP Mission 9 can be found at http://ssep.ncessee.org.