The Key Peninsula Middle School was among five schools selected to participate in NASA experiments as part of the agency’s NASA Explorer Schools program. In a competitive process, KPMS was selected not once, but twice—first to launch an experiment in a high-altitude balloon, and the second to launch an experiment in a rocket.

Eighth graders Ashley Torres and Jessica Henderson were the first ones to visit the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, spending five days there, along with a teacher, in March.

As part of the application, the school had to describe the experiment they’d like launched, what they expect to happen during the launch, and why the experiment was significant. “If you send vegetable seeds in a high altitude balloon, what will be the effect of the gamma radiation on the vegetables?” was the question.

The two young ladies confidently explain the idea, which was brainstormed and voted on by the entire class. “We thought they may get mutated,” said Torres. “Gamma radiation may affect it so it grows better or faster,” offered Henderson. Which leads to the experiment’s significance: It may improve growth production, which could aid countries, particularly poor ones, to feed their populations.

The experiment samples from the five selected schools will fly on a large scientific balloon, usually the size of a football field, to an altitude of up to 130,000 feet in a six- to 12-hour flight, NASA said.

“Our astronomy class helped so much. We wish the whole class could go,” Torres said. “We dedicate this whole (experience) to them.

” At Wallops, the students got to fly a high-altitude balloon, although the seeds themselves will be flown in a separate scientific balloon mission on a future date. They toured the facility, presented their experiment to the other five school teams and NASA staff, and saw a few tourist attractions on the side. This was their first East Coast visit.

Although the girls didn’t get to prepare their presentations ahead of time, the experience they gained from talking at the KPMS assembly and other preparations helped their confidence, they said.

The other two KPMS students, Davin Osuna and Billy Cundiff, and a teacher will visit NASA in June to present the second experiment and participate in other activities.

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