A group of Knox County students is preparing for an ‘out of this world’ experience this weekend.

A team of students from Bearden Middle School entered and won the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Now, their experiment on the effect of microgravity on the efficacy of antibiotics on a strain of the pink eye virus will be performed by astronauts on the International Space Station.

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Students from Bearden Middle work on their experiment.
Students from Bearden Middle work on their experiment.

“On the ISS, bacteria spreads much quicker because you can’t use water, and it’s a lot harder to clean things,” said Alex Hoffman, and eighth-grader at Bearden who worked on the project.

The group hopes their test could help solve one of the big problems of long-haul space travel – the spread of germs on a sealed spacecraft.

“Many of them could be close quarters disease that could spread really fast,” said Riley Speas, another eighth-grader in the group. “So to have an experiment that might help humans get to Mars faster is really exciting to think about.”

Riley Speas is one of several Bearden Middle School students headed to Florida this weekend to watch their experiment launch for the ISS.
Riley Speas is one of several Bearden Middle School students headed to Florida this weekend to watch their experiment launch for the ISS.

The students will travel to Florida this weekend for the SpaceX rocket launch, which is slated for Feb. 18. The launch has been delayed several times from August 2016.

The International Space Station.
The International Space Station.

The group also includes students from Vine Middle and Halls. Halls won second place, but their project will not go to space.

The Vine team’s project was selected for a later launch, scheduled in June. That group is led by Melody Hawkins, an 8th grade science teacher at Vine.

“It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity for our students,” she said. “I’m excited to see that maybe it will create a love or new passion for science they didn’t have before.”

The Vine experiment involved separating blue-green algae from water – which could help advance water purification technology.

“We focus a lot on standards, that definitely is our education model, standards based, but this gave us an opportunity to take the standard that we’re working on in the classroom, and extend it out into things that happen in the real world," Hawkins said. 

When they found their project had been selected – it was a huge surprise.

A group of students from Vine Middle School work on their experiment, which is slated to be sent to the ISS in June.
A group of students from Vine Middle School work on their experiment, which is slated to be sent to the ISS in June.

“She passed out,” laughed Sude Buyuktazeler, gesturing at Shukurani Cimpaye.

“"I literally jumped out of my seat and started jumping, it was so exciting,” she added.

And the educators are happy to have students taking a hands-on role in their education – designing experiments and proposals that could further the future of space travel – before they can drive here on earth.

“It feels really, really cool because a lot of people, they don't get to help with stuff and they’re adults,” said Speas. “So being the age I am it's like, ‘Woah, it's pretty awesome that I'm affecting the course of history almost.' It's pretty cool."