DreamUp Team Prepares Experiment for Launch to Space Station

It’s 21 days until the rocket launch, and the iLEAD DreamUp 2018 Launch Team’s dreams are becoming a reality. Brayden Hall, Connor Raskin, Adam Simpson, Luke Rigdon, Chaya Rubinstein, Isobel Salters, Skyler Verkouteren, Sophie Muncie, Olivia Rothenberg, Fintan Harwood, and Kallie Verkouteren are 5th-11th grade learners who speak fluently about microgravity, bacteria, and the experiment where they hope to find out whether or not coffee kills bacteria in microgravity, as it does on Earth.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the reality of this real-world, hands-on experiment hit as the students met in their biology lab at Santa Clarita Valley international (SCVi) Charter High School with their STEAM Facilitator, Ingrid Moon, along with Dr. Renate Lux, a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, and live-streamed with the Mission Manager at NanoRacks LLC, the payload partner of DreamUp and NASA, Julia Wolfenbarger. The team was gathered to prepare a set of MixStix, small tubes that have airtight clamps. The bacteria is in chamber one, the hydration fluid in chamber two, and the dried coffee in chamber three.

Before the livestream with NanoRacks, the team met with Dr. Lux. In addition to a practice run-through, she asked many questions such as “What are we missing?” and “What do we not know?” These questions helped lead the team to make one of the MixStix without coffee, as a control for the experiment. In total, there are three MixStix: one for the International Space Station (ISS), one staying at SCVi as a control without the coffee, and one staying at SCVi prepared the same way as the one on the ISS.

On the day of the experiment, the students ensured the lab environment was as sterile as possible. They cleaned the countertops, set up the bunsen burner, laid out the sterile MixStix, tweezers, alcohol and cotton swabs, put on latex gloves, lab coats, and some even put on hair nets. The mood was friendly as well as very focused and intense, as Ms. Wolfenbarger from NanoRacks explained, “My job here today is to help you guys get this loaded. I’m helping you and you’re helping me, so that I can see that you’re loading it the way that you said you would.” She asked many questions to start: “What are you trying to figure out? How are you doing it? What are you putting in your tube? Does that match the paperwork of the experiment?”

The team answered her questions and discussed with NanoRacks the order they were going to put the experiment into the MixStix chambers: the bacteria in the first chamber, then the BHI medium in the middle chamber, and the dried coffee in the last chamber. The students split into three groups with each group preparing one of the three MixStix while another student read the step-by-step directions out loud off a laptop.

The team of students had not done many experiments in a lab setting before, so they enjoyed the process and getting their hands on this experiment. As they carefully worked together to prepare the MixStix, they clamped and unclamped; filled the tubes with the bacteria, fluid and dried coffee; put in the stoppers; put in a plastic screw at the top with a zip tie around the stopper; and finally put green tape and blue tape around the chamber clips, to let the astronauts know which clamp to open first. The work was very detailed as the students would talk through what they were doing. Ms. Moon said she “was blown away by the professionalism, patience, and focus of our learners.”

One tricky part of the experiment was the hole at the top of the MixStix to allow for pressure to balance. After the MixStix was packed, the students had to screw a tiny plastic screw into the top to seal the hole. If the screw was tightened too much, it would snap, and if too little, it would leak.

After each step, the students held each MixStix up to the laptop for Julia at NanoRacks to see, discuss, and approve or request a change. It took nearly two hours for the team to prepare all three MixStix with the experiment. Upon completion, Ms. Wolfenbarger from NanoRacks said to the team, “Congratulations! You are all now REAL SPACE SCIENTISTS!”


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