Students From Around The World To Gather At CU For Experiment Tests Prior To July Space Shuttle Launch

Published: April 21, 2002

Middle school and high school students from around the world will meet at the University of Colorado at Boulder April 24 to April 28 for simulation tests of experiments that will ride on NASA's space shuttle Columbia July 19.

The seven-person Columbia flight crew will include CU-Boulder aerospace engineering graduate Kalpana Chawla, who is making her second space shuttle flight. Chawla, who received her doctorate in 1988 from CU-Boulder and flew on Columbia in 1997, will help operate the student experiments in orbit. 

The NASA mission is scheduled for 16 days. Chawla is one of 15 CU-Boulder alumni who have flown in space.

Thirty students from Australia, China, Israel, Japan, Lichtenstein and the United States will be working at CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technologies Center for the late April "dress rehearsal." A NASA center founded in 1987, BioServe is headquartered in the engineering college's aerospace engineering sciences department with the goal of supporting the commercialization of space.

The student experiments are sponsored by SPACEHAB, a private corporation headquartered in Washington, D.C. SPACEHAB develops, owns and operates commercial space flight equipment, including lab modules and cargo carriers for use in orbit.

The hardware for the upcoming Columbia student experiments was built by BioServe engineers, who have designed instruments and flown payloads on 17 space shuttle missions, two international space station missions and two of Russia's Mir space station missions, said Bioserve Director Louis Stodieck. 

The Australian payload consists of a spider experiment to see if the arachnids spin different webs in microgravity compared to their handiwork on Earth. The students hope to find how the shape and physical properties of the web silk may differ from webs spun on Earth.

A payload created by Israeli students involves a "chemical garden" of crystalline fibers in an aqueous solution to see if the fibers grow differently in space, said Stodieck, an associate research professor in aerospace engineering.

Students from Lichtenstein will be studying the behavior of carpenter bees in space, he said. The students are using balsa wood as a medium to see if the bees exhibit different eating, drilling and social behavior in microgravity than they do on Earth.

A payload containing ants was developed by students from New York. The students have hypothesized the ants will tunnel at a slower rate in space. A colored gel in the ant payload will provide the student team with a way to track the insects' progress. The gel also provides the ants with food and water.

Chinese students have devised an experiment to see if silkworm larvae develop differently in space. They have hypothesized the larvae will develop differently due to microgravity, or indirect effects like altered eating habits or other behavioral changes.

A group of Japanese students have developed a self-contained aquatic habitat that includes medaka fish. They hope to determine if the young medaka fish will develop faster in a low-gravity environment, possibly due to a lower expenditure of energy.

Known as the Space Technology and Research Students, or STARS, the SPACEHAB project ultimately will involve thousands of students from around the world who will be monitoring the experiments located in the shuttle's spacehab module via the via the Internet, said Stodieck.

"SPACEHAB has had a great deal of success regarding its space efforts in the past," said Stodieck. "Their management recognized our long experience with life sciences hardware and experiments in space in selecting us for the STARS program, and we are pleased to be a part of this educational venture."