PHARR – An experiment designed by a team of 11th grade students at PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School got selected as a finalist for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 11 to the International Space Station (ISS). Their experiment, which is one of four selected from Texas and the only one from the Rio Grande Valley, is expected to launch in early June from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists and engineers, the SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture. Started in June 2010, it was designed as a model U.S. National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program. The program typically serves 300 students across communities in every facet of authentic research of their own design.

The students in the finalist team include Kirk Miller, Emiliano Nuno, Anna Pineda, Kristina Evasco and Abigail Salazar. Their Engineering Teacher, Andrew Martinez, serves as facilitator. 

"Our experiment deals with gravitropism,” said Miller of their experiment titled How does microgravity effect the growth of an Allium cepa seed? “Essentially, it causes plants to have their roots growing down because of gravity. Since there is no gravity in space, we want to see how that will effect the plant."

In addition to the selected finalist team, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) is one of four communities in Texas and a total of 21 involved in the SSEP program between the United States and Canada.

As a participating community, SSEP Mission 11 to ISS will provide PSJA ISD students with a real research mini-laboratory capable of supporting a single microgravity experiment, and all launch services to fly the mini-lab in space and return it safely to Earth for harvesting and analysis.

Besides the selected finalist team, two other PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM ECHS team proposals made it as Honorary Finalists:

Honorary Finalist Team I:

Experiment: Does microgravity affect the rate of binary fission in paramecium caudatum?

Team Members: Kaelin Cabrera, Abigail Salazar

Teacher Facilitator: Natasha Quailes

Honorary Finalist Team II:

Experiment: Effects of Microgravity on Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Growth

Students: Geremy Quintanilla, Juan Mejia, Luis Gonzalez

Teacher Facilitator: Natasha Quailes

Also recognized as District Honorable Mention is the team comprised of: Rodrigo Palacios, Armando Medrano and Matthew Herrera.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” said PSJA Superintendent Dr. Daniel King. “We commend the students and teachers involved for their efforts. They will not only proudly represent our PSJA Family, but also every student in the Rio Grande Valley.”