Students in a high school astronomy class are growing “space” basil seeds flown on the space shuttle to see if they germinate differently from Earth-based basil seeds.
Both types of cinnamon basil seeds were provided to Charles Kuenzel’s classes at Saratoga Springs High School by NASA.
The space seeds were flown on the space shuttle Endeavour mission of August 2007. The other, control group seeds come from the Park Seed Co. in South Carolina.
“For us, the Earth seeds are growing better,” said Jill McPherson, 16, an astronomy student from Wilton.
But McPherson said other groups of students are finding that the so-called space seeds are germinating better.
“It’s been really odd how the growth has varied between the two,” McPherson said.
McPherson and three other students planted 10 seeds in the astronomy classroom at the high school on West Avenue. Approximately 100 astronomy students in Kuenzel’s classes worked in similar groups.
Of the 10 seeds planted by McPherson’s group, four of the space seeds germinated and four of the earth seeds germinated successfully.
“Two [seeds] didn’t germinate,” McPherson said.
Kuenzel said NASA sent the seeds to a number of high schools across the United States as a way of involving the students in a NASA-endorsed project.
“We were told to plant the seeds and collect data on those seeds to find if there is a difference in germination percentage, growth in height, and leaves of the two sets,” Kuenzel said.
He said the earth-based seeds acted as the control in the experiment in an effort to look for differences in the two.
The students have been growing the seeds for the past three weeks. The data has been collected and will be analyzed over the coming weeks so a final conclusion can be reached on growth differences in the two sets of seed.
The information from the experiment will be sent to NASA.
The same astronomy students are also designing plant growth chambers for use on the moon.
McPherson said the idea is to use soil from the moon and, hopefully, water from ice on the moon’s south pole to grow food for a future lunar research facility.
“We researched lunar soil,” McPherson said. She said soil on the moon has many of the same minerals as earth soil and should be suitable for growing vegetables if enough water is available.
“The idea of the chamber is that it has to be able to be sent up in a space shuttle and grow seeds on the moon,” McPherson said.
Her group of four students designed a lunar plant growth chamber with double doors and a variety of other features to protect the plant from the harsh lunar climate.
The students made scale models of their chambers. In McPherson’s case the students used cardboard, wax paper and other items to simulate a much better built and stronger device.
Most of the students in Kuenzel’s class are seniors, but McPherson is a junior. The science course is an elective.
“I’ve always really been fascinated with astronomy,” McPherson said. She said the course was her first chance to really explore what astronomy is all about.
McPherson said she took a series of photos last month during the solar eclipse of the moon.
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