Behind the Paper - A hitchhiker’s guide to an ISS experiment in under 9 months

Discover the story behind my paper, "A hitchhiker’s guide to an ISS experiment in under 9 months" which was published in npj Microgravity
Behind the Paper - A hitchhiker’s guide to an ISS experiment in under 9 months

My article entitled "A hitchhiker’s guide to an ISS experiment in under 9 months" was published in the journal npj Microgravity. I discuss the work behind the paper below.

I have been fortunate enough to fly four experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This experience has lead me to write "A Hitchhiker’s Guide to an ISS Experiment in under 9 months" to help other students realize that the ISS is accessible to all, not just those who are lucky enough to go to a prominent school. Students do not have to be taking multiple honors courses to enter the program, and several of the best students in the program were athletes that had never done a high level science course. Because the program is so accessible, students that come from troubled backgrounds and poverty can use the ISS program to improve their situation. A school with disadvantaged students that took part in the ISS program turned the life of one girl completely around. In her own words, she said that she didn’t see why learning anything was important. However, after participating in the program, she saw the value of education and went from four F’s to all A’s and B’s as she discovered her passion for science and engineering. Her story is shared by many other students who have all been given opportunities by the ISS program.

Some schools run the program as an after-school activity and others run it as a class. At Valley Christian, it is run as a club after school. Teams are guided by staff and mentors who teach students to operate in an industry environment and how to support each other. The knowledge of how to function in an industry environment is something that they would normally not learn until they were in a workplace or internship. In addition, the ISS program lets students network with professors while working on their projects. These connections often remain after the program has ended, and students get opportunities for college research that they could not get otherwise.

The kids in the program are not the only benefactors. Professors and small companies that would never be able to get on the ISS are able to work together with student teams. This allows their research, which would often sit unused for a very long time, to be utilized.

Back when I first joined the ISS program in Junior High, there were many hurdles that my team and I had to work through. We had to find pumps that functioned at a low enough power, the code was too difficult for us, and there were issues with making everything fit within the flight chamber. Today, the ISS program has evolved greatly. With four industry engineers working on the program every day, it has taken leaps and bounds to becoming accessible to everyone. The software is now a simple event table that requires zero prior programming knowledge, and the pump/housing system has been premade. This means that students can focus all their efforts on the science aspect of the project without having to worry that their tubing will be toxic or that their pumps will draw too much current.

 In addition to the infrastructure provided, the adult mentors are trained in a workshop. They will learn how to guide their student teams and will also create their own backup module. This module will be completely flight ready and can be used by the students if the idea they chose turns out to be too difficult.

As of 2017, the schools participating in the program cover the globe. In America, there are teams from California, Hawaii, Minnesota, North Carolina and more. There are also teams in Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Finland and several other locations. In conclusion, the program has an outreach to students everywhere and it helps them to discover their passion.

Read the article in npj Microgravity