The Fairchild Challenge has kicked off its three-year partnership of their Growing Beyond Earth program with NASA, including a project to grow vegetables in space.
From all around South Florida, science teachers gathered Sept. 30 at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on behalf of their schools and students to participate in this multi-year experiment.
“The mission of this project [Growing Beyond Earth] is two things,” said Carl Lewis, director of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. “We’re trying to teach botany to middle and high school students, one of the things that’s a high priority for us here at Fairchild, but also to pave the way for future space exploration.”
Growing Beyond Earth is a program that gives middle- and high-school students the opportunity to be active participants in bringing real botanic research to their classroom.
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The Garden House buzzed with excited educators as Gioia Massa, lead researcher and life science scientist, took the stage, accompanied by project manager Trent Smith and education specialist Lester Morales.
Massa focuses primarily on the veggie project at the International Space Station. Veggie is a small plant growth chamber being used as a type of astronaut garden. In this garden, her team is exploring lighting and fertilizer testing.
At every launch, Massa looks forward to talking to teachers, hearing their stories about how students enjoyed the project from the year before and what new insights they have gained from it.
“We also really look forward to the data these students are collecting,” Massa said. “We have a very limited group of scientists at Kennedy Space Center working in this plant area — there’s about five of us — and we’re just limited in what we can do but, now we’ve multiplied our abilities by hundreds.”
Students will be gathering data on what types of plants might be suitable to grow in space and what are the best ways to grow them.
Laura Abreu-Grondin, a science teacher at Miami Country Day School, has been coming to Fairchild for years and has been participating in the Grow Beyond Earth program since it started.
She is thrilled at the prospect that her students’ results might be used for something bigger than themselves, and they might see them in the future.
“I do hope that they gain new perspectives,” Abreu-Grondin said. “But I also hope that they go in researching more about this, and going out of their way to see if they can Skype with some botanists at NASA. I hope it peeks interest and passions, and drives them in different directions — what they want out of life.”
Miami Country Day eighth-grader Marco Pacheco is eager to start on this project, he said.
Science is Marco’s favorite subject and he believes it’s necessary to understand the world. He hopes to expand his knowledge in biology and learn more about why plants thrive in environment and why.
“I’m most excited about learning new types of plants and why NASA chose to grow them at the International Space Station,” Marco said.
Massa said she hopes students become more engaged and comfortable with science. She thinks a lot of kids often feel disenfranchised from science but, being a scientist it’s not about who is smartest or who has better math skills. Science is about making observations, learning to set up experiments, and understanding how to test different variables.
“This program is a wonderful way to capture students when they’re at the age to be inspired,” Massa said