Six students at the STEM Early College at N.C. A&T will have the opportunity to test their experiment on the International Space Station later this year. As a part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, they will be among a select group of students who have had the opportunity to conduct research in microgravity. The STEM Early College is one of 17 student teams selected for the mission currently underway.

They are interested in finding out if plants grow normally in zero gravity. Their findings could help grow crops in outer space one day to provide fresh food to astronauts, or in case people ever live on the moon or Mars.

The student members of the team from The STEM Early College are ninth-graders Todd Baldwin, Emma Mengistu, Andrew Harvey, Zoe Kelley, Gage Carlisle and Erik Feldmann. 

Baldwin was excited and shocked when he heard the news that his team had been selected.

“It blew my mind that we were able to accomplish something so vast and receive so much notoriety,” he said.

The students were presented lab coats during a news briefing on Feb. 11.

During the mission, the student team will conduct two identical experiments – one in a test tube on the International Space Station and another in their classroom – to see how gravity effects the germination of an onion seed and whether the difference in gravity between outer space and Earth affects the direction of root and leaf growth in the plants. The students say the results of their experiment could help answer the question of whether life could be maintained in a place other than Earth.

The STEM Early College experiment was selected from 74 proposals submitted by students from seven Guilford County middle and high schools. A local committee of 44 community members, professors, science professionals and Guilford County Schools (GCS) educators selected the top three experiments. A national review board convened by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which administers the program, selected The STEM Early College’s experiment for spaceflight.

Two student-designed mission patches will travel to the International Space Station with the experiment. Eighth-grader McKenzie Kimrey from Northern Middle and senior Matthew Taylor from Northwest High created the artwork for the patches. The patches will be certified as having flown in space and returned for display in their respective schools.

Kimrey has loved art for a long time and was elated to be a winner.

“When I heard the news, at first I didn’t believe it,” she said.   I feel very accomplished.”

Funding and support from the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering are making the experience possible. 

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is a national science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NanoRacks LLC, which is working with NASA under a formal Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.