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West Fargo students’ microgravity experiment headed for International Space Station next fall

Liberty Middle School students Skyler Manney and Abby Bueling proudly display their idea for an experiment for possible inclusion on the International Space Station. David Samson1 / 2
“It’s fun to see them go through an authentic learning experience project,” Liberty Middle School teacher Eric Dobervich says.2 / 2

A microgravity experiment created by West Fargo students will head to the International Space Station next fall.

The mini-lab experiment will orbit space aboard Mission 8 of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program launched in 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

This past fall, 250 West Fargo students came up with about 25 ideas for experiments that could be done in a microgravity environment, said Eric Dobervich, a seventh-grade teacher at Liberty Middle School.

The project involved Liberty seventh- and eighth-graders, ninth-graders from Sheyenne High School who mentored fifth-grade students from Westside Elementary School, Dobervich said.

Volunteer judges from Moore Engineering, West Fargo; Appareo Systems, Fargo; and North Dakota State University selected three projects for submission to SSEP.

One experiment studies whether titanium rusts differently in a microgravity environment, said Dobervich. “They chose that because part of the space station is made of a specific type of titanium.”

Another test shows whether a simple lemon battery created in space functions differently by studying how electrons travel through an electrolyte in microgravity.

The third studies whether certain types of bacteria can break down oil in a microgravity environment.

An SSEP review board will select one of West Fargo’s three experiments at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The chosen flight experiment then undergoes a four-month NASA flight safety review at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The experiment must be contained in a 6.7-inch-long plastic tube. Mission 8 astronauts will interact with the students when they open the experiment on the space station, Dobervich said.

After six weeks in orbit, the experiment will be returned to Earth for harvesting and analysis.

West Fargo School District was required to enter into a contract and pay $21,500 to reserve a spot on Mission 8.

Eleven local businesses and individuals donated money needed to fund that contract. They included Otter Tail/Varistar, University of North Dakota, Appareo, Moore Engineering, Louis Dardis, KLJ, AE2S, North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, F-M Area Foundation, F-M Economic Development, and Bobcat.

“The program is really about emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and having students go through an authentic science research problem,” Dobervich said.

“It’s fun to see them go through an authentic learning experience project,” he said. “It was exciting to see how excited the fifth-graders got to be part of it.”

Seventh-graders Abby Bueling and Skyler Manney have enjoyed the experience.

“I really like this project. I really like all the work we were able to do,” Bueling said. “There’s a lot of work involved, collaborating with our teammates.”

She wants to be an architect.

Manney has her sights set on becoming an engineer.

“I think I’ve learned to work better with more people,” Skyler said. “Everybody had to know what’s going on.”

“We’ve had some neat experiences,” she said. “We got to Skype with a NASA engineer.”

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