Hey! I was part of a student-led, adult-mentored team that designed and built two experiments that were sent aboard the SpaceX capsule "Dragon" last year in March. The two experiments were a bacteria-growth experiment and a battery-life experiment, studying the effects of micro-gravity on these particular experiments. We repeated the experiments this year as well.

My role was in public relations so I wasn't too involved in the design and execution of the experiments, but I will answer any questions to the best of my ability!

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Comments: 22 • Responses: 8  • Date: 

moombathon9 karma

How did this all start? How did you get the opportunity to do this?

sleipnihr10 karma

The first school to participate was a larger school in northern California. They tested the growth of plants in space. When they had success with the project, they reached out to other schools and gave them the chance to design and build their own experiments. The school I was attending at the time was one of the ones that became involved.

Participants at our school were selected through an application process. Everyone had the opportunity to apply. I personally was selected due to my artistic skills and communicative abilities, and was appointed as head of our public relations department.

tim19677 karma

Sounds Cool, what did you learn from the two experiments?

sleipnihr13 karma

Hi! We got a lot of information from the experiments. We had several control groups that we tested here on earth under similar conditions the experiments would face in the ISS.

With the bacteria experiment, we had to modify the bacteria so it would grow and develop a natural glow so it would be visible in low light. The modified bacteria grew at a rate where several colonies developed in each petri dish over the course of several weeks.

Unfortunately there were difficulties in getting the experiment on the ISS to work- we had to develop a system in which we used small valves to open a drip line which would feed the bacteria a nutrient once it was in space so it didn't start growing outside of the micro-gravity environment. There were problems getting the "Dragon" to attach to the ISS, and we suspect that damaged the valve system. In any case, the valve got stuck and the bacteria did not grow because of the lack of nutrient. It was very disappointing, but back on the ground we determined that there had been damages due to shaking or rough handling which caused the error. We're currently repeating the experiment, and once I know the results I will update this AMA!

With the battery experiment, we tested several batteries running constantly on earth. They all died around 15-20 days of usage, but the batteries in space lasted closer to 30 days! It was very exciting to get significant data that showed such a drastic change, and that experiment will also be repeated to verify our results.

tim19671 karma

Thanks for the 411! An update would be great! What a great opportunity.

Sorry I know it's the next day, but should you read this, is there any information online about the mentor program, the experiments and/or the 'Dragon'? I am sure I can google the Dragon.

Edit - Here is a great site on the SpaceX Dragon http://www.spacex.com/dragon

I am sure it was disappointing to lose one experiment, but I imagine they learn much from failures too.

sleipnihr2 karma

Local tv news story

Local paper's report

It was disappointing, but we improved our valve system this time to avoid the same mistake! Still a valuable learning opportunity.

satanicwaffles2 karma

Hi there. First off, awesome work. I'm an aerospace engineering student who is currently working at the Canadian Space Agency's test laboratory, where spacecraft systems and subsystems are assembled and tested.

What testing and qualifications did the test apparatuses under go for launch? What sort of shock mitigation, if any, did you folks use?

sleipnihr3 karma

Thank you! We were given a list of qualifications and safety guidelines by NASA that had to be met, including the dimensions of the experiment, the type of battery we could use, the type of bacteria we could send up, how much liquid we were allowed to include, how how the project could get, etc.

Our adult mentor oversaw that we were within guidelines and took the experiment setup to our "parent" school that assisted all the other schools involved in the project. It was there that everything was inspected and approved.

Once we were approved to be within the guidelines, we tested mostly by shaking the box that contained the experiments. Everything was packed so compactly that we didn't really have to worry about anything rattling around or hitting other components. The damage the valve system sustained was due to a lose connection being shaken lose during launch that had unfortunately been overlooked. Because we weren't aware of the damage when we packed the experiments, we believe it became loosened on the way to Cape Kennedy where Dragon was launched, then the launch itself was what finalized the damage. We were assured that the individuals transporting the experiments would ensure minimal rough handling to the container that held them. They were handled personally by the astronauts aboard the ISS, and the damages we sustained weren't their fault at all.

As to shock mitigation, I'm not sure. The experiment itself was within a "microlab", which was about 5in x 2in x 2in. The microlab was put into a box with 3 other microlabs, which was handled by the parent school. I was not there in person to see it packaged. I do know the box that contained all the microlabs was shipped in a padded, hard-shelled container, but I don't know if NASA had special guidelines concerning cushioning and that sort of thing.

thewiremother2 karma

Why as a PR person, would you start an AMA at 12:30 EST?

sleipnihr3 karma

The experiment has ended, this AMA is not related to PR for the project. I just wanted to share my experience with interested parties since I know there are some science enthusiasts here on Reddit.

thesupergeek422 karma

Hello! I attend Centaurus High School, and I am working on the team that is currently launching stuff into space under the same program. Do you have any helpful hints or tips?

sleipnihr2 karma

Hey! Best of luck, it's a great opportunity. My advice would be to make the most out of it, it really is a once in a lifetime chance. Make sure your team has a strong sense off community and teamwork. Meet your deadlines, and work together to solve problems hastily and avoid conflict as much as possible!

_Not_Bruce_Wayne_1 karma

was this the live YouTube thing that Bill Nye did?? sorry if you explained already but I don't have time to read everything. the spider experiment was very interesting. IIRC, a spider adapted to zero gravity and jumped to catch a bug.

sleipnihr1 karma

I'm not really sure. Our experiment didn't involve spiders, but it's possible another school's did.

delivertowill1 karma

How long did it take from the initial idea to actually getting it aboard the SpaceX capsule? Where there any setbacks during the process? Thanks for your time.

sleipnihr2 karma

From conception to execution, about a year. The application process began towards the end of the school year in 2012, then candidates were accepted and went through some basic educational training during the summer months. We finalized experiment ideas around late September if my memory serves me right. The launch took place March 1st, 2013. Our team traveled from southern California to Florida to watch the launch in person.

There were several setbacks! One of which was keeping up-to-date with the programs and equipment we needed. We received a lot of donations from generous anonymous donors who gave us both equipment and monetary aid. Another was being able to correctly engineer the bacteria to glow in the dark. We had to find a way to allow the bacteria to glow without changing its growth rate.