CORCORAN — The students at John Muir Middle School are not part of a simulation or game and they’re not pretending to be scientists, they are scientists.
Once again, Corcoran has been accepted as one of the 38 communities in the U.S., Canada and Brazil to be part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program participation in Mission 13. The students are part of the U.S. Space Program and will be performing cutting-edge scientific experiments.
John Muir Middle School students are competing against one another to design a proposal for an experiment that will be run simultaneously in space by an astronaut at the International Space Station and on earth by the student designers.
On Friday, the students launched into the proposal writing stage by holding an assembly and speaking with a special guest via Skype, Dr. Jeff Goldstein, the director of the National Center for the Earth and Space Science Education and director of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
Goldstein talked to the students about what it’s like to be an astrophysicist who studies the weather on other planets.
He also talked about how when he was an 11-year-old in sixth grade, he watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 space mission.
“In that moment, it changed me so dramatically I knew I wanted to be a space explorer,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said the program was created to inspire the next generation of students just like he was inspired as a kid. He told the students to explore their own talents and pursue a career in a field that they love.
Every one of the school’s 750 students is taking part in the program in groups of four or five students.
The experiment will be testing the effect of microgravity on whatever the student chooses to design their experiment on. The students will likely be creating an experiment that has never been done before, Principal Dave Whitmore said.
Whitmore said there will be around 135 proposals altogether, which will then be narrowed down to 40. From there, outside experts will pick out the top three projects to be sent to the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
Program officials will then choose one final project from the school that will make its way from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the international Space Station 250 miles above the surface of the earth.
Goldstein said these are real research experiments embedded at the middle-school level to show the students what it is like to be a scientist in the real world.
“You are part of America’s space program, this is not a simulation” Goldstein told the students. “All of you are truly microgravity researchers.”
Whitmore said this is a STEAM project (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). All the students also created patches and a winning patch will be sewn onto the spacesuit of the astronaut who will be in space.
Whitmore said the students and staff are excited to be able to do the project for second year in a row.
“I am unbelievably flattered that we were chosen again to be able to do this,” Whitmore said.
Luz Angelica Medina, a 12-year-old seventh grader, and three other girls were in the group whose experiment was chosen last year. Their experiment was to see if broccoli would germinate better in space than on earth.
Medina said the group had two hypotheses: either the broccoli in space would germinate a lot better, or that it wouldn’t grow due to the effect of microgravity.
“We found that the broccoli experiment from space grew a lot better than the one on earth,” Medina said, adding the group was hoping it would grow better.
Medina said she was proud of herself and the rest of her group for being chosen and completing the experiment, which came back from space at the beginning of August.
“It’s such a big thing that not a lot of people get to experience in life,” Medina, who hopes to become a veterinarian or a scientist for NASA, said.
The students will know which project was chosen as the finalist in December.