Winners were announced in March. The experiments chosen to be conducted on the station explored how a zero-gravity environment would affect how spiders jump, and how that environment would affect the growth and virulence of bacteria.
Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma, of Troy, Mich. — who submitted the bacteria experiment — said that they are, of course, excited to travel to London and hear the results of their experiment, but that they’re simply hoping that there are results to report.
“I hope that they find something, and that they didn’t just all die,” said Chen, a junior in high school.
Ma, also a junior, added that it’s an exciting time to be working on this kind of science.
“It is such an interesting time to be working on this with the renewed interest in space,” she said, citing both the Curiosity Rover and the celebration of late astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Bill Nye, known for his PBS show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and his work in science advocacy, said that finding ways to test how humans could live and thrive in space is one of the most important things scientists can be doing right now.
“These are wonderful questions that space exploration allows you to seek the answers to some important questions,” he said. “Space exploration brings out the best in us, in humans. It challenges us. It’s peaceful. It raises the expectations of everyone in the world of what’s possible, and it’s inherently optimistic.”
This contest, he said, is just one example of how governments and other entities can work together to further the cause of space exploration.
“I’m a big advocate for space exploration,” Nye said. “There are these people who long for the past [age of the space race] — the past was great, but it was expensive. I’m not convinced that’s the best use of our funds. That said, I hope that someone goes back to the moon pretty soon.”
Exploring the solar system and beyond, he said, not only helps humans wrestle with the important questions of where life on Earth came from and whether we’re alone in the universe, but also to help the world deal with larger problems it may face in the future. He offered up a couple of scenarios where space exploration technology could be crucial, including the possibility of an asteroid collision.
“That’s a control-alt-delete for your civilization,” he said. “You’d see it two decades before it hits: It’s the only preventable natural disaster, though not without space exploration technology.”
Chen and Ma said they hope their experiment on bacteria, for example, will one day be able to inform questions on how crops and diseases from Earth react in space.
“We’re hoping that the experiment can show something with applications for agriculture in space and human biology in space,” said Ma. “We’re extending what we can do with human knowledge.”
Nye said that talking about space is a great way to get people interested in science and these larger issues.
“I made the show to get people excited about science. One area that everyone embraces is space,” he said. Then, after a beat: “Space and dinosaurs.”
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