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STEM Academy teens to send experiment to International Space Station

STEM Academy teens to send experiment to International Space Station

A team of five teenagers from the UTPB STEM Academy in Odessa earned the opportunity to send a science experiment to the International Space Station (ISS) during the summer of 2023, according to Ector County ISD.

Tenth graders Evan Hernandez, Bryan Nash, Evan Boyer and Kegan Holder and 11th grader Georgi Shoumaroff recently participated in the Student Spacefight Experiments Program (SSEP), which is made possible locally thanks to support from HEB, Chevron, Education Foundation of Odessa, and Kepler Aerospace.

The program has students designing experiments that will be carried out in gravity by astronauts on the ISS. This will mark the fourth experiment from ECISD flown to ISS as part of this program, according to the school district. This past November, Permian High senior Swetha Kesavan’s science project blasted off to the ISS aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 (see video).

The winning five-member team from the STEM Academy, guided by teacher Karey Gramethbaur, created an experiment that aims to test whether a specific fungus called Pestalotiopsis microspora would survive and reproduce in space, with the goal of the fungus breaking down waste plastic into biodegradable components. “The biodegradable byproduct of this experiment could then be used by astronauts to grow plants in,” according to Ector County ISD.

Prior to launch this summer, the team will continue working on the experiment this spring with Gramethbaur and two faculty members from the University of Texas Permian Basin Biology department. The experiment will spend 4 to 6 weeks aboard the ISS. Astronauts will carry out the experiment via instructions provided by the student team. When the experiment returns to earth, students will compare results with identical samples that stayed on Earth.

By participating in SSEP, students both get the chance to make a real-world impact on science, while also pursuing STEM subjects in college by building relationships with university-level mentors, Ector County ISD officials state.

Two other teams from ECISD were finalists in this competition.

One finalist from George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa consists of Eva Brower (10th grade); Nathalaine Denise De Leon (11th grade); Mikail Karais (10th grade); Adrian Rodriguez (10th grade); and Beverly Lanae Vanessa Woods (11th grade). The team is coached by teachers Lornalyn De Leon and Maria Lopez.

SSEP team from NTO

The other finalist, from Hays STEAM Academy, consists of Horacio Hernandez Frias (5th grade); Cristian Eduardo Lopez (5th grade); Caleb Daniel Orozco (5th grade) and Harper Pierce-DeShazo (5th grade). The team is coached by teacher Erika Pocaterra.

SSEP team from Hays STEAM Academy.

In addition to flying science experiments into outerspace, SSEP features a Mission Patch Art and Design Competition. K-12 students will have the opportunity to design a patch commemorating ECISD’s SSEP Mission 17 experience. One winning patch from grades K-5 and one from grades 6-12 will be selected by ECISD staff to accompany the STEM Academy’s experiment to the ISS. Those patches will return to the students embossed as “flown to space.”