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Seeds come from space to grow in classroom





 Seeds come from space to grow in classroom

May 12  2008




MAYS LANDING - Figuring out how to feed crews on long space missions is one of the more practical considerations of space travel.

But will they like pesto?

Students at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology are growing basil as part of a NASA Seeds from Space program to study how food might be grown on a space colony. Using cinnamon basil seeds that traveled to the International Space Station, science teacher Melissa Hannan and her students combined aquaculture and hydroponics to create a system that provides both fish and herbs.

The project gives students hands-on lessons that could be applied to several programs offered at the school. Informational technology students in Mark Gresham's physics class used 3-D computer modeling to design the system. Fred Cramer's carpentry class built the tanks. Les Keeper's chemistry class coordinates chemical testing. Hannan's environmental science class monitors the daily progress of the plants.

The process involved some trial and error. Students designed a clever system to grow plants in PVC tubing elevated on plastic arches in fish tanks.

"But the first (arches) fell over," said junior William Tustin, of Mays Landing. "They were too flimsy, and they collapsed under the weight."

They were reinforced and are doing well. James Adams, of Egg Harbor Township, said they also simplified the design over time to take into consideration transportation and potential repairs in space.

"We wanted to keep it light and simple so if it breaks, it would be easy to fix," he said.

Junior Mark Basile, of Egg Harbor Township, got the idea for the PVC tubing from his uncle, who also used it to grow seedlings. The basil seedlings are just starting to peek through their pods, and the students included some more established plants to see how they adapt.

Chase Pippin, of Egg Harbor Township, a student in the culinary program, noted that the color of the established basil has changed in the hydroponic setting.

"We're going to make some food with the results and see how they taste," he said.

Students are also monitoring a "control tank" that includes a similar setup, but no fish, and seeds that came not from space, but from Burt's Bees, which provided them as part of a program to grow flowers that attract bees.

"We're going to plant them outside later," Elisha Muniz, of East Vineland said. "We're doing more than just one project."

The space tank also includes some blue gills, whose waste serves as fertilizer for the plants. Tustin said they ran a math simulation that indicated they could vacuum compress a year's supply of fish food to about the size of a pack of gum so it would take up little space in the shuttle.

Douglas Williams, of Egg Harbor Township, is part of a team that tests for nitrates and phosphates in both tanks every two days.

Hannan said the idea of growing space food really captured the students' interest - even students not in her class show up during their free periods to help out. The process also involves daily record-keeping, and Hannan will have to submit a final report on their results to NASA.

"It's really a lot of work, almost like a thesis," she said. "We've got 60 pages of data so far."

The students are already working on phase two - a project to pressurize the tank to see how the plants grow in a pressurized system.

To e-mail Diane D'Amico at The Press: DDamico@pressofac.com






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Since 1962 I doubted on Newton's laws. I did not accept the infinitive speed and I found un-vivid the laws of gravity and time.

I learned the Einstein's Relativity, thus I found some answers for my questions. But, I had another doubt of Infinitive Mass-Energy. And I wanted to know why light has stable speed?




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