DEERFIELD – Students from Deerfield High School launched their experiment to the International Space Station on August 14 after winning the Higher Orbits Go For Launch! Andromeda Division competition.
The students, Justin Bank, Chirag Goel, Dan Kambich, Zach Levy and Katherine Stecher, devised an experiment that would utilize a microgravity environment to test the effects of radiation on living cells in space. DHS was the only school in the Chicago area that was chosen.
Astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, who worked at NASA from 2004 to 2014, assisted the students at the inaugural event in Deerfield the summer of 2016.
“As a high school student, to say that you have something launching into space is a big deal,” said Metcalf-Lindenburger. “The reason I like the Go For Launch! program is that kids start to realize that they can participate. The students are already thinking in the right way and now they can take college courses and do advance work.”
Metcalf-Lindenburger explained that with the ultimate goal of getting to Mars, radiation is going to be a huge concern.
“If the students want to see if there’s a lighter or less expensive way to get results of reducing radiation, which is a big problem that NASA is trying to solve and work with, it’s a good question to answer and it’s a very hard one,” she said. “I thought it was neat seeing high school students trying to tackle that.”
Metcalf-Lindenburger added, “They take the leap from being a teenager to seeing themselves as scientists and engineers. They’re rocket scientists, so it’s a very exciting program.”
Project leader Bank explained that coming up with the idea for the experiment was a group effort that happened at the three-day Go For Launch! program at DHS last summer.
“There were 20 or 30 people there and five of us from DHS formed a group and brainstormed several ideas until we decided on one,” he said.
Bank said that as project leader he served as liaison between the hardware provider Space Tango and the rest of the group.
“It also involved making decisions in terms of the actual timing of the experiment, and the materials that we’re testing.”
Bank will be a freshman at Oberlin College this fall, and he plans to major in geology. He attended the launch at Cape Canaveral with his parents.
“It’s pretty exciting to see your team’s idea launched up into the International Space Station,” he said.
Goel said he got involved in Go For Launch! through DHS Assistant Principal Joseph Taylor, who also directed others to join the team.
“We’re trying to see which materials out of the ones that we’re testing are going to be the best in terms of blocking radiation on feasibility, their effectiveness and even how much they weigh,” said Goel, who along with Bank represented the team in Cape Canaveral.
The DHS soon-to-be senior is considering studying finance or medicine in college.
“Even biomedical engineering is the most tightly linked to our project, because we’re trying to find out how radiation has an effect on living biological cells,” said Goel. “We’re conducting that using different means of technology, which is where engineering comes in.”
Goel explained that finance also plays a large role in the experiment.
“Taking one pound into space costs $1, 000, so you have to figure out how to combine all aspects of the experiment into one feasible goal, because you can’t send lead up there, as it will cost a lot of money, so you have to be efficient with your money and think about future missions to Mars,” he said.
Goel said the team will receive live data reports from the NASA website, and the space station itself will take 30 days of data.
“Astronauts and other scientists will be retrieving the data and looking at how the cells that we’re testing will be effected by the radiation,” he said. “We also worked with our engineering team, Space Tango, who made the cube that will be launched into space and will contain all of the material.”
Goel’s parents and his brother traveled to Florida with him.
“This is probably the most humbling experience of my life,” he said. “I’m truly blown away.”
Stecher, who is also entering his senior year at DHS, said she enjoyed meeting Metcalf-Lindenburger and looks up to any woman in STEM. Stecher’s mom is a STEM teacher who always warned her about radiation.
“When you’re thinking about space and an experiment you want to send up there, you want to do something that you can’t do down here,” she said. “I really wanted to focus on the possibility of the growth of cancer cells, because I’ve always been interested in cancer research and what causes mutations to occur more rapidly or slowly.”
Stecher plans to study biology.
“I signed up for the program because of my interest in biology and now it’s fulfilling a childhood dream of mine, so I will address it on my college applications,” she said. Stecher is looking forward to seeing the results from the August 14 experiment.
Go For Launch! will return to the Chicagoland area at DHS, February 17-19. The program will be open to students from any school in grades eight to 12.
“It used to be that only career scientists could have their science done on the space station, thanks to evolution in the process, and working with Space Tango, we are extremely excited to be able to truly launch local students’ dreams to space with the launch of the student experiment from Go For Launch! Deerfield,” said Michelle Lucas, founder/president Higher Orbits.
For more information visit: http://higherorbits.org/