Bellevue middle schoolers’ project launches into space

Three Bellevue middle schoolers watched their experiment — which could help future colonies of humans on Mars one day — launch into space this weekend.

An experiment designed by Open Window School eighth graders Subi Lumala, Vivienne Rutherford and Catherine Whitmer launched on the Flacon 9 SpaceX rocket “Dragon” on Feb. 19. The rocket is on a resupply mission to the International Space Station and delivered about 5,500 pounds of supplies, according to NASA.

The launch was the private company’s first mission from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, according to SpaceX. The pad has previously been the point of departure for the Apollo moon missions and other space shuttle launches.

Two of the student scientists — Catherine Whitmer and Subi Lumala — were in Florida for the launch.

The students’ experiment, Arabidopsis Germination in Martian Soil Simulant, will investigate how Arabidopsis seeds from the mustard family germinate in simulated Martian soil under microgravity conditions.

Astronauts will conduct the experiment during the rocket’s four-to-six week flight. Lumala, Rutherford and Whitmer will also be conducting the experiment on the ground as a control, and will hear from the astronauts through an online experiment log.

The students hope their findings will be useful for future human colonies on Mars, school spokesperson Carolyn Lucas said.

The group submitted the project through the Student Space Flight Experiments Program. Theirs was one of 21 experiments chosen and the only one from Washington state.

Dozens of teams from the Open Window School submitted proposals and had to undergo a thorough review process.

The school will celebrate the launch at an assembly on March 3, where students will share more information about their experiment and watch a replay of the launch. Mission patches designed by fourth and fifth grade students, Sophia Sekits and Cadence Ching, will be handed out to all students to commemorate the ‘out of this world’ event.