Team Yucca: To Space and Back

By Hutch Siegen

My name is Hutch Siegen, and I am a crew member in the DreamUp to Space project. This project invites young learners from kindergarten through 12th grade to write scientific proposals to send experiments to the International Space Station in a mixture enclosure tube called a Mixstix. (It’s a scientific polyfiber tubal system with three chambers separated by two clamps and two covers on each end of the tube.) If their proposal gets chosen by a selecting board, then their experiment will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS), where real astronauts will, at the team’s direction, run the experiment in microgravity. When selected, the learners’ scientific proposals become a reality!

Author Hutch Siegen examines a sample of yucca seeds under the microscope.

A lot of work must be done before the said experiment is ready to be launched. There is experiment optimization, which is a fancy term for making sure the experiment is as good as possible. There is fundraising, which is an opportunity to let the community at large know firsthand about the scientific project and iLEAD and how they can be a part of and support the team and project. Last but not least, one of my favorite parts is Post-Flight Analysis.

This year I was a part of iLEAD Team Yucca. We sought to discover whether soapweed yucca seeds would germinate in microgravity. We launched our experiment to the ISS on November 26, 2022, from Kennedy Space Center (KSC). When the experiment came back, a date was set for our team to meet at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuary (on the central coast of California) in order to see the results of our experiment for the first time.

My dad and I arrived at the Moss Landing Inn, which was 10 minutes away from the Elkhorn Slough National Estuary. After spending the night, we made our way to the estuary and met up with the rest of Team Yucca. We were able to tour the estuary a bit and meet other scientists studying similar things. Many were researching marine life, including marine plants. The team that our members met with had a lot of knowledge of botany (plant life) as well as marine plant life. This came in handy.

Team Yucca
Team Yucca examine samples.

While the tour was lovely, my mind was on the Mixstix. When we got our Mixstix back, I was thrilled. Our team immediately began to make observations on the exterior of the Mixstix. After careful examination of the exterior, we used tables and sterile equipment to examine the interior of the Mixstix and the yucca seeds. We were assigned partners to open up Mixstix. Emilina Walker and I got to open up the Earth sample Mixstix while Team Yucca’s principal investigators, Carter Sand and Grace Stumpf, opened the space sample Mixstix. After writing our observations, we looked at the samples underneath the microscopes that Elkhorn provided. First I and my partner used one of the microscopes to view four different Earth sample yucca seeds. Looking through the microscopes was such a surreal experience. I thought it was so cool how we got to see the roots and seeds up close. After we looked at a germinated yucca seed, we wrote our observations on how the roots looked. We made sure to carefully assess the health of our roots, because they are where the plant gets water from. Once we were done with our observations, one of the scientists showed us the cells of our yucca roots using a high-power microscope.

Once we were done making our observations, we filled out a form answering questions about our examinations. Then we said our good-byes and went home. I loved being in the lab and working to help cultivate beneficial plants like the soapweed yucca that can be used for future space exploration. This was such an exciting experience, and I hope to work on this project again.

Special thanks to Kenton Parker, Elkhorn Slough Director of Education (retired), and to Peggy Foletta, Elkhorn Slough Director of Education and GLOBE Master Trainer and Partnership Coordinator.

Featured image: Team Yucca members at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. From left to right: iLEAD Director of STEAM Initiatives Kathleen Fredette, Elkhorn Slough Director of Education (retired) Kenton Parker, Grace Stumpf, Emilina Walker, Carter Sand, Hutch Seigen, iLEAD’s STEAM Project Specialist Shawna Melville.


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