November 1, 1996
Student experiments to fly on board space shuttle
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Four experiments designed by Purdue University students will
hitch a ride aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, scheduled to launch Friday, Nov.
A student group, Purdue's Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, was
chosen, along with other institutions, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
to design several experiments as part of a NASA pilot program. The experiments will test the feasibility of NASA'a Space Experiment Module (SEM) project, which will
give K-12 students an affordable way to place an experiment on board a space shuttle
mission. An overview of NASA's SEM project can be found on the World Wide Web at
"The current method for student experiments requires that they supply power and a
data acquisition system, as well as an experiment, which is beyond the capability
of the average grade-school student," says Chetan Kumar, a senior in mechanical engineering
who is in charge of Purdue's experiments. "So NASA designed the SEM project, which
is less expensive and has power and a data acquisition system supplied to it." The
goal of the project is to reduce the cost of student experiments by 90 percent relative
to the current student experiment program.
"Having colleges in the pilot program will help work the bugs out and make it a more
user-friendly program when it is implemented for K though 12 students," he says.
If the pilot program is successful, the Purdue group will work with Lafayette and
other grade-school and high-school students to develop SEM experiments for future
Here are descriptions of the Purdue experiments:
- A thermal convection experiment will examine the effects of microgravity on a heated
fluid. On earth, when a fluid is heated, the hot portion rises and the cool fluid
sinks. This effect, called buoyancy, is due to the earth's gravitational pull. In
an orbiting spacecraft, the only gravity is microgravity, or the attraction between objects
in the craft. The experiment will determine how a heated fluid behaves in weightlessness.
- A particle detector will record traces of cosmic rays on a piece of plastic called
Lexan. Cosmic rays are fast-moving, high-energy nuclear particles originating from
outer space, and they will leave microscopic pits in the plastic. The pits will be
examined to determine how they differ in size from pits caused by earth-based radiation.
- Tomato seeds are being used to test the effects of microgravity on seed germination.
Approximately 2,000 tomato seeds were frozen in different stages of germination --
half will fly on the shuttle and half will remain on earth as controls. After returning from space, all the seeds will be grown to see if there are any differences in growth
and in the cellular structure of the plants.
- Brine shrimp will be used to determine if gravity plays a role in the shrimp's consumption
of a growth-stimulating chemical. Hundreds of shrimp eggs aboard the shuttle will
be immersed in salt water, where they will hatch and grow. After two days they will be exposed to a growth-stimulating chemical, and measurements will be taken to
see how much the shrimp absorb. The amount absorbed will then be compared to the
amount absorbed by shrimp in similar ground-based tests.
Source: Chetan Kumar, (765) 743-1326; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; home, (765) 497-1245; e-mail, email@example.com
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