Plant experiment wins ‘Go For Launch!’ national competition
Mesquite High’s experiment to fly on International Space Station
Mark Jordan, Mesquite’s Engineering and Wood Working teacher and Mesquite's Junior student Devin Askue.

September 14, 2017
By Eduardo Barraza

(Gilbert, AZ) -- Can growing peanuts in space drastically reduce the need for fertilizer, and provide a ready food source for astronauts to make the long journey to Mars?

That is what a space experiment designed by students at Mesquite High School earlier this year is trying to find out. The experiment consists in testing the nitrogen fixing properties of a peanut plant in microgravity by flying it on the International Space Station (ISS) for 30 days.

The ISS functions as a microgravity and space environment laboratory where research of this type is conducted, and where crewmembers carry out experiments in fields like physics, biology and astronomy.

The students’ experiment will be placed in a four-by-four inch metallic cube, and launched into space on an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility –located in the Wallops Island, Virginia– on November 10, a target date.

Students who were involved in creating the experiment will collect data remotely with the help of the astronauts aboard.

If successful, the Mesquite High’s peanut plant experiment can contribute to prepare the way for the future cultivation of crops for food in space.

The experiment was created in February during a three-day space camp called “Go For Launch!,” which involves space exploration as a platform to launch student involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

“We had about 40 students participate and compete in a project-based contest where they formed teams, and spent the weekend working with astronauts to develop an experiment,” said Mark Jordan, Mesquite’s Engineering and Wood Working teacher.

Mesquite hosts this program every year in partnership with Orbital ATK. The aerospace manufacturer and defense industry company sponsors, mentors and works with these students.

This year, one of Mesquite’s teams –the Saguaro Snakes– won both the regional and the national science experiment contests in the Orbital ATK Division, thus qualifying to fly their experiment on the ISS.

Jordan said the students came up with the idea of an experiment based on peanuts due to the amazing nitrogen-fixing properties of these edible seeds.

“When you plant peanuts, they put nitrogen back into the soil, and nitrogen is what every other plant uses as a fertilizer,” said Jordan. “One of the problems that we are going to have when we travel to Mars is not only growing crops when we get there, but also supplying food on the way there.”

Devin Askue, a Mesquite Junior student and member of the Saguaro Snakes team that developed the peanut experiment, said the team researched a number of ideas prior to choosing peanuts.

“We looked at peanuts, and we thought it would be a good thing to use them as fertilizer for other plants.”

For Askue, whose goal is to become an aerospace engineer, the experiment as well as winning the regional and national competitions, is definitely something that can serve him well in the future.

“I think it opens up opportunities for me and everyone on the team. It will look great on my resume.”
 

Jordan feels the same way, and thinks that having won the contest is an awesome experience, since Mesquite students competed against much larger schools and districts.

“Having Mesquite win put us on the map as kind of like a force to be reckoned with, and in the aerospace community as it’s being taught throughout the nation.”

Jordan and four of his students were invited to do a presentation for Go for Launch! at the Project Lead the Way Summit in Orlando, Florida in October.
In 2018, Mesquite High will host its annual Go For Launch! camp from March 1st through the 4th.

The Go for Launch! program is sponsored by Higher Orbits, a non-profit that promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

For more information on the Go for Launch! program visit: 
https://goo.gl/7ANhnj

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