The Ocean City School District has been chosen to participate in a science education program that will culminate this fall with an experiment designed by Ocean City students being conducted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
The Student Spaceflight Experiment Program was designed to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers in the U.S., and Ocean City's emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education helped the district win selection for the program's sixth mission into space.
Students from the Ocean City Intermediate School and Ocean City High School (anybody in grades 6 to 12 who's interested) will work in small groups of three to four to design science experiments that test the effects of weightlessness (microgravity). One of the projects will be selected at the end of May to be packed into a small cylinder and shipped to NASA to take flight with a rocket launched in the fall. A spacecraft will carry the experiment to the International Space Station and return it to Earth.
Sample experiments from past missions range from the simple ("Can oil and water mix in microgravity?" or "Do apple trees germinated in microgravity grow differently?") to the more complex ("Do antibiotics kill more germs in microgravity than in gravity?" or "The Effect of Micro-Gravity on H1 Embryonic Mouse Stem Cells Grown in Human Leukemia Inhibitory Factor").
STEM Curriculum Director Mikenzie Helphenstine and high school science teacher Dan Weaver made a presentation to the Ocean City Board of Education on Wednesday to explain the program.
Helphenstine said that in choosing Ocean City for the program the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education was impressed not only with the district's STEM programs but with the support from the community — as evidenced by things like the donations that helped bring an observatory to the grounds of the high school.
Weaver said already he's seen an overwhelming amount of interest in the program, and he's anticipating high-quality experiments.
"I think the kids are going to surprise us," he said.
Students will be able to work community lunch time (high school) or enrichment time (intermediate school) or after school. Faculty from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey will be involved by providing mini-lectures.
The community and other students can get involved by helping to design a 4-by-4-inch mission patch to fly with the experiment. The proposed student experiments must be complete by the end of April, and the winning experiment will be chosen by the end of May.
After the experiment is conducted in space and returned to Earth, students will have the opportunity to present their findings in presentations at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
The district will be raising money to cover the $21,500 cost of participating in the program. The Parent Teacher Association has moved its annual Spring Carnival to an earlier date to help in the effort. Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 15 (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) to participate.
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(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the experiment would travel to the International Space Station on a space shuttle. The experiment will travel via a different type of spacecraft.)