Middle school girls sending science experiment to space

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Later this spring 15 student teams will have their experiments sent to the International Space Station for the latest Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).

They were selected from proposals submitted by more than 1,300 student teams nationwide. This week's Fox 4 Young Achievers got theirs chosen. And they are the first students from Kansas City and the first from Missouri to get an experiment on a SSEP mission.

They call themselves "Team Defying Microgravity," four eighth grade girls at St. Peter's School who are defying lingering stereotypes and preconceived notions about whether girls really do enjoy science and do well at it.

"It's amazing to be an all-girl team because there are tons of statistics that say boys are better in math and science than girls are," said team member Tone'Nae Bradley-Toomer. "I feel it's kind of breaking the barriers."

"It just opens up my eyes to the science world and how far we can really go into it and to keep going throughout our whole lives," said team member Zoe Butler.

Participating in an exciting national program that enables students to get their experiments tested aboard the International Space Station has made it happen for them.

"This made me feel like I can do more than I thought I could before," said team member Anna Campbell, "and it's made me want to push myself to do things that may be a little out of my comfort zone."

The experiment Tone'Nae Bradley-Toomer, Anna Campbell, Maureen Egan and Zoe Butler came up with will go into space on the upcoming Mission 5 of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), a project of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) and NanoRacks, LLC.

"At first, most of us were objecting to this idea because it wasn't complex, it wasn't, like, world-changing but sometimes simple is best," said Tone'Nae.

"I guess it's just simple and it's easy," said Maureen.

Simple, yes, but potentially very useful. Working with their St. Peter's School science teacher Bob Jacobsen, the girls designed a test of whether a small nail exposed to water will rust faster or slower in microgravity than on earth.

"And it's kind of most relevant, too," said Zoe.

"And it's probably one of the simplest to conduct on the ISS," said Anna.

"I thought the premise of their experiment was very, very good," said Jacobsen. "They had a real valid reason as to why this should be pursued."

Holding a small tube called a Fluid Mixture Enclosure (FME) in which the experiment will be conducted, Maureen explained how the test will work:

"There's a nail in this side and water on this side. And when it's sent into space, the astronauts will unclamp the clamp and the water will flow into where they nail is. And so we're going to see if it rusts faster or slower under microgravity."

"And we'll be conducting the same experiment here on Earth," said Zoe. "The ground truth."

"What's so neat about this," said Jacobsen about the girls' achievement, "is there names were just randomly drawn out of a hat (to form their team). We had 16 students that were interested and this is just like the real world. You do not have an opportunity to pick who you are going to work with. They're very good at interacting with one another. They've been able to see it all the way through."

One of the really remarkable aspects of the girls' achievement in getting their microgravity experiment into space doesn't have to do with the science of it all. It's about a unique experiment in school collaboration and community building. Schools go into partnership to participate in SSEP to raise money for their projects and to grow in science together.

St. Peter's joined with nearby Academie Lafayette, Benjamin Banneker, Della Lamb and Hogan Prep, all schools within a few blocks of St. Peter's.

"It's kind of fun working with charter schools and public schools doing a big collab," said Tone'Nae. $21,500 was donated for this latest local partnership by sponsors including Distribution by Air, Kauffman Foundation, Google Fiber, City of Kansas City, MO, KC Stem Alliance and Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology.

Nearly 700 students in 115 teams developed experiments. There was also a competition to design the mission patch for the local mission selected to be sent to the ISS and Della Lamb student My Ly was the winner of that. The collaboration has forged a real bond.

"It's been really cool meeting them and talking about our experiments and how similar our schools really are and the things that we're learning," said Zoe. It's a community of schools that students, teachers and organizers say will flourish beyond the science.

St. Peter's and the local school partnership have raised more than $10,700 from 100 donors to send a contingent including the St. Peter's students and My Ly from Della Lamb to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, VA to see the actual launch of the spacecraft that will take their experiment to the International Space Station. Meantime, several more schools are joining the local partnership for Mission 6 of SSEP.

Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

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