OCEAN CITY — After enduring almost three months of delays and technical mishaps that kept their science experiment grounded, a group of Ocean City High School students on Tuesday finally got to see their work in action.
About eight hours after a NASA crew aboard the International Space Station opened a clamp on their test tube experiment, the students repeated the act in a classroom at the high school. This time, the delay was intentional and on the students’ part, adviser Dan Weaver said, taking into account the time lag between Earth and outer space.
“Right now, they’re introducing the bacteria to the lettuce,” Weaver said about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday as the students removed a clamp on the test tube that separated a compartment containing E. coli bacteria from a compartment containing romaine lettuce. “We’re matching up what they’re doing in space as exact as we can.”
The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education said it received a report at 8:28 a.m. that ISS Commander Barry Wilmore had activated five experiments, including those from Somerville, Tennessee; Oakland, California; and Rockwall and San Antonio, both in Texas.
The Ocean City experiment, designed to determine the rate at which bacteria multiply in microgravity, could prove useful to astronauts who might someday need to grow food onboard as space travelers venture farther from Earth.
The second interaction the students will have with the space crew will occur in about four weeks, Weaver said, when the second clamp on the test tube is removed. That will open the compartment containing formalin, a solution composed of 40 percent formaldehyde, which will prevent further bacterial decomposition of the lettuce. When that happens in space, the students will replicate the action on Earth about eight hours later.
The test tube from space will be shipped to Ocean City High School within hours of touchdown, allowing the students to analyze its contents compared with the contents of their earthbound test tube.
Six OCHS students were on site when the rocket carrying their experiment exploded six seconds after liftoff in late October in Virginia. The day before, the mission had been scrubbed due to an unauthorized boat in the marine hazard zone.
The mission was rescheduled three times in December before being scrubbed a minute and a half before liftoff Jan. 6 due to a mechanical malfunction. It was rescheduled twice more, to Jan. 9 and 10, with the rocket finally launching Jan. 10.
“You cannot control for all of those delays, explosions and boats wandering into the flight path,” Weaver said. “All you can do is be ready to go when the moment arises.”
For Lauren Bowersock, Mercy Griffith, Kristina Redmond, Dan Loggi, Kaitland Wriggins and Alison Miles, that moment is now.
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