MCPS Students Compete to Put Experiments in Space


Area companies and organizations gave a total of $26,000 to the Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation to enable MCPS middle schools students to participate in a Student Space Flight Experiment Program (SSEP).  MCPS is one of 24 communities participating in SSEP Mission 8 to the International Space Station. The design competition kicked off February 23 and continued through April 24. 

The foundation received a generous $17,000 grant from the Maryland Space Grant Consortium at The John Hopkins University, which covered most of the required costs.  The additional $9,000 needed to ensure MCPS could participate came from Millennium Engineering and Integration Company, Washington Space Business Roundtable, the Society of Satellite Professionals International, Lockheed Martin and Adnet.             

The SSEP is a national Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education program made possible by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE). Students will work to create experiments as part of a competition that will select one or two experiments to be launched into space from each participating community.  The chosen experiments will be ferried to the International Space Station using a variety of transport vehicles. Once the vehicle is docked, the student experiments will be transferred to ISS where astronauts will carry out the experiment.

MCPS submitted about 40 flight experiment proposals, and only one from the school system would be chosen. Students could design experiments in diverse scientific fields including seed germination, crystal growth, physiology of microorganisms and life cycles (e.g. bacteria), cell biology and growth, food studies, and studies of micro-aquatic life. 

Alana McCarthy Light, from Parkland Magnet Middle School Middle School Student, thought of the selected experiment, which explores the impact of microgravity on the storage of probiotics medicine. Her idea will be sent to fly to the International Space System.

“The Student Spaceflight Experiment Program (SSEP) provides exposure to every facet of REAL science for a community of students,” says SSEP national program director and NCESSE center director Dr. Jeff Goldstein. “Students are fully immersed in the manifold of science in terms of ownership in inquiry, teamwork and team think, critical thinking, problem solving, experiment design, proposal writing, and how the professional community actually secures research resources.”  The program is designed to inspire students to follow STEM-based career paths and to give students have exposure to professional level research at an early age. The process demonstrates how proposals at NASA are reviewed for flight safety and payload integration for the site. 

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program ( is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE; in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC.  This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory."