BRHS to Leave Mark on Space Shuttle Endeavour

The school is among 16 in America designing an experiment to fly aboard a space shuttle.

The sky’s the limit, but not for what a community of students from the are working on now.

The district was recently one of 16 communities across the country chosen to participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).

And the board of education approved participation in this program at its April 12 meeting.

"We are very excited to bring this program to the community," said Jorge Valdes, a first-year science teacher at .

Launched in June 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC, Valdes said, the SSEP is a national science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational initiative that allows students from grades five through 12 to participate in designing and conducting an experiment to fly aboard the final flights of a space shuttle.

Out of 447 proposals submitted by student teams, only 16 were selected, and the communities vary in size from small districts and individual schools to a group of rural school districts.  

Valdes said that Bridgewater-Raritan was the only community selected from New Jersey.

"This gets students thinking about doing science in a micro-gravity environment," he said. "Samples from the experiment will be sent back to the school."

"We will keep them as artifacts of our time in space," he added.

According to the program's website, the SSEP was designed to help inspire America’s next generation of scientists and engineers.

Valdes is one of the SSEP community co-directors, along with district science supervisor, Michael Herbst.

“I always wanted to be an astronaut,” said Valdes, who received his PhD from Columbia University, “but my eyesight wasn’t strong enough to qualify me in any of the programs. But as soon as I heard of the opportunity of the SSEP from Michael Herbst, I knew this would be a really exciting venture I wanted to be a part of.”

Although this is Valdes’ first year as a science teacher at the school, his professional experience working as a scientist at Bell Laboratories for 32 years serves as a testimony to the knowledge and dedication he fuels into his passion for science—and it is proof of his exceptional competency to co-direct the program.

“Phase 1, expected to launch on April 29, took place a few months ago and is coming to fruition,” he said. “The students have been designing an experiment for a low Earth-flying orbit within a microgravity mini-laboratory that will fly aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour [STS 134]."

Valdes said student proposals are sent to NASA for approval. Students had the opportunity to choose to participate in the program after they saw information about it posted throughout the high school.

"We have one reserved space on the space shuttle," he said. "And we have the money, $20,000, in the bag to move forward."

The experiments are designed to assess the impact of between 10 and 14 days of microgravity [weightlessness] on a physical, chemical or biological system, and can include a range of diverse fields, including seed germination, crystal growth, cell biology and food studies, according to the SSEP website.

Phase 2, the final phase, will be to design an experiment to fly aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station, and the students are currently working on proposals for that. 

Valdes said at the board of education meeting that this is an amazing opportunity for the students, who developed all the ideas for moving forward with the project.

"This is the ride of their lives," he said. "We are bringing a whole new dimension as part of their education."


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