SoCal Students Send Experiments to Space Aboard First Private Spacecraft

Experiments testing fermentation and fungi are aboard SpaceX's Dragon capsule

The next big thing in science has twice the chance of coming from Southern California as students make history with their experiments travelling aboard the first privately-owned rocket from Hawthorne-based company Space X.

Max Holden, 15, and classmate Paige D'Andrea, 16, from Chaminade College Preparatory School own one of 12 experiments on the SpaceX Rocket, now connected to the International Space Station.

The freshman and sophomore, respectively, are testing the effects of microgravity on fermentation in space. Their project was picked from more than 80 submissions by 400 students.

Three finalists from the Catholic school were sent to NASA, and Holden and D'Andrea's "Microgravity 1" came out ahead of hundreds of submissions from across the country.

"There's two vials inside of a main volume. The main volume has grape juice. There's two smaller vials. One has the yeast. One has formalin [a clear solution of formaldehyde in water]," Holden said.

The tube with yeast will be simultaneously broken on the ground and in space. After five days, the tube containing formalin will stop the process.

"We are going to do it here and we are going to do it in space, but I think it will ferment faster in space," D'Andrea said.


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It will take nearly a month for the experiment to get back to Earth, where the pair will measure the amount of carbon dioxide from the space station experiment to a similar one on the ground – the more carbon dioxide, the faster the fermentation.

Holden said wine usually ferments over the course of a year or two.

"If it speeds up you can make stuff so much faster, put it on the market faster, make new things," Holden said. "You can patent this and sell it to other people and say if you want to make wine in space, you have to use my permission," said Holden, whose dad collects wines.

The students' Biology and Robotics teacher Nancy McIntyre said that unknown is the beauty of these "real science" experiments.

"What's next? How do I know that one of the students aren't going to be the ones that go and work at Space X; or how do I know that they don't become the next series of inventors or innovators," McIntyre said.

An experiment on fungi from San Marino High School is also aboard the first privately-operated rocket.

Student Spaceflight Experiments Program,, is the organization giving the students the opportunity to send their experiments in space.

However, Chaminade College Preparatory School had to come up with the funds necessary to get their experiment on the rocket. Medical technology company, Medtronic, donated what McIntyre called "a substantial amount" to make it happen.

Along with the experiments, student designed patches are also aboard the rocket. The art teachers at Chaminade College Preparatory held their own contest and chose a design by student, Chelsea Dean.

The experiment began as a class assignment and took nearly the entire school year to formalize the project for entry.

"I think the best thing about it is to know that our project got picked because we worked hard on it," D'Andrea said.

The students will put their experiments on display at the National Air and Space Museum run by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., over the July 4 weekend.

The returning wine from space will ultimately be blessed in a ceremony by a Chaminade College Preparatory chaplain in a special ceremony.

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