Olentangy Academy Students Working with NASA


The lettuce right before harvest

Abby Turner, Writer

Olentangy Academy students Isaac Rose, Madison Heffernan and Alex Forman are currently working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on innovative and healthy food options for astronauts traveling on the International Space Station (ISS), and food for possible life on Mars.

The Fairchild Challenge partnered with NASA to allow students to conduct an experiment and collect data on different kinds of plants to determine the best ones for space travel. Olentangy Academy teacher Ms. Doup has participated in this project in years past, and brought it to the school when she began teaching. Rose, Heffernan and Forman decided to participate in the Fairchild project this year for their Genius Project, spending 40 minutes every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for four weeks conducting the experiment.

The Olentangy Academy students chose to conduct their research on the sustainability of lettuce in a space-like environment.

“The plants constantly need to be checked on and watered. We have to log any water we add and any other adjustments we might make,” Heffernan said. All the observations made by the students, including height, width, and quality of the plants, are reported back to the scientists at NASA. In the future, the data collected by Olentangy Academy students will be used on the ISS.

“Our research is being used to understand what conditions promote growth of lettuce and we will be sending that to the ISS, where they will experiment with our conditions in a zero-gravity environment,” Isaac Rose said. Luckily for the students, the process of the experiment has come without many difficulties. Objectives that the students have come across may prompt their research further.

“We had a lot of age growth and even some mildew. Though this was unexpected, it wasn’t an issue because things like this may happen on the ISS or in martian conditions, so NASA wanted all of our data along with our detailed observations,” Heffernan said. Coming across these types of discoveries has the possibility for future research as well, which the students may choose to pursue.

“During part two we chose what we want to test for. Our team is considering testing to see if the number of plants in one pot affects growth or to see is algae growth affects growth. We are very excited because if this part of the project goes well, we will get to go to Miami and present our data to NASA scientists,” Heffernan said. Together, data from student’s across the nation participating in the Fairchild Challenge will help with the development of sustainable food in future space travel.

“The data from this experiment will be used like the data from any other experiment, to learn, improve, and solve problems,” Heffernan said.