PHARR – For the second year in a row, a microgravity experiment designed by a team of 11th grade students at PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School was selected as a flight experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 12 to the International Space Station (ISS). Their experiment, which is the fourth from the school district selected for the program and the only one from the Rio Grande Valley, is expected to launch later this year 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 Rodolfo Cantu, Jacob Fuentes and Joel Quiñones with Engineering Teacher Andrew Martinez as their facilitator. They are all part of PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM ECHS, a campus at PSJA ISD that focuses on graduating students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

According to Cantu, who like his teammates is pursuing an Associate Degree in Engineering from South Texas while at PSJA, their experiment proposal was inspired by their childhood fascination for Sea-Monkeys, which are a hybrid breed of brine shrimp called Artemia NYOS invented in 1957 by Harold von Braunhut.

"Our experiment studies the impact of microgravity on the development of brine shrimp,'” said the 17-year-old of their experiment titled, What is the Effect that Microgravity has on the development of synthetic Brine Shrimp? "We are curious to see what happens to them (brine shrimp) in space since they do not hatch until they are in an environment that is sustainable."

In addition to the selected finalist team, PSJA is one of five communities in Texas and a total of 31 involved in SSEP Mission 12 from the United States, Canada and Brazil.

As a participating community, SSEP Mission 12 to ISS will provide PSJA 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, PSJA ISD had two other team proposals make it as Finalists and an Honorable Mention:

Finalist Team II:

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

Team Members: Kaelin Cabrera

Teacher Facilitator: Natasha Quailes

Finalist Team III:

Experiment: What is the effect of microgravity on the rate of reproduction by the number of sea monkeys?

Students: Yuri Garcia, Josue Martinez, Christian Pena, Carlos Reyna

Teacher Facilitator: Andrew Martinez

The school district would also like to recognize the following students whose team earned District Honorable Mention: David Anaya, Manuel Quiñones, Marco Ortiz, and Victor Vasquez.

“We are proud of our students for this tremendous accomplishment,” said PSJA Superintendent Dr. Daniel King. “They are not only representing our PSJA Family, but also every student in the Rio Grande Valley.”