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YouTube Student Bacteria, Spider Experiments Begin Journey to Space Station


Japan's HTV-3 moments before lift off with nearly five tons of ISS supplies and new research gear. Photo Credit/NASA TV

The winning experiments of YouTube’s Space Lab student contest  hurtled into orbit late Friday, bound for the International Space Station and the opportunity to break ground on research with bacteria and spiders in the weightlessness of space.

Contest proposals from Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma, both 16 of Troy, Mich., and Amr Mohammed, 18, of Alexandria, Egypt, blasted off late Friday from southern Japan aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s HTV-3 unpiloted cargo re-supply mission.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who began a four month tour of duty aboard the ISS earlier this week, announced the winning entries in Washington D. C. on Mar. 22. During her stay, Williams and her crewmates will carry out the two  student experiments.

The HTV-3 blasted into Earth orbit aboard JAXA’s H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashma Space Center on Friday at 10:06 p.m., EDT.

The successful launch placed JAXA’s unpiloted  cargo  carrier on a course to dock with the six person orbiting science lab early July 27.

“I definitely want to pursue science as a career. I don’t see myself as doing anything else,” Chen explained in a YouTube clip required as part of her contest entry.

She and Ma are sending the bacteria. Recent research suggests that some strains of bacteria grow more virulent in the absense of gravity. Commercial research teams plan to develop vaccines based on the research, including one to fight Salmonella.

The two Troy, Mich.,  teens hope to go in a similar direction by identifying nutrients and compounds that may reverse the virlence trend.

“We wanted to do something that would impact the human race,” explained Ma.

Mohammed was struck by the behavior of Zebra spiders. They pounce on their prey, rather than trapping them in webs.

How will they feed in space when they are weightless? Will the Zebra spiders adapt?

“My friends say I’m a little quirky,” the 18-year-old explained in his YouTube clip.  “I would say they are a little bit right. The possibility of sending an experiment to space is the most exciting thing that I’ve heard of in my life.”

Initiated in October, the You Tube competition drew hundreds of contestants from more than 80 countries. 

A team of judges, including William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration Mission Directorate, and Leland Melvin, the associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Education and a former astronaut, selected 60 finalists.

YouTube turned to an online audience to choose six finalists based on internet presentations developed by the student contestants.

The experts took it from there, selecting the best two experiments for the ISS.






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