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It’s all systems go for ‘Ants in Space’
It’s all systems go for ‘Ants in Space’January 16, 2003Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
After months of unexpected delays, an experiment developed by students at a Syracuse high school–with the help of faculty members and students in Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS)–has finally taken flight.
“Ants in Space,” an experiment aimed at determining the effect of zero gravity on the tunneling behavior of harvester ants, is one of more than 80 experiments that will be conducted during the 16-day science research mission of the space shuttle Columbia, which was launched Jan. 16.
Fowler students Abby Golash, Brad Miller, Liban Mohamed and Rachel Poppe, and teachers Charlotte Archabald, Erika Gannon and Sheila Gerber, watched the launch in person at the Kennedy Space Center. The Fowler group viewed the launch with U.S. Rep. James Walsh and NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, a former professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
The “Ants in Space” experiment is one of six designed and developed by students in countries around the globe through the Space Technology and Research Students (STARS) program, which is managed by Space Media, a division of SPACEHAB.
STARS is a commercial education initiative designed to engage students in science and technology and enable them to share in the excitement of space research and exploration. “Ants in Space” is the only student experiment developed in the United States; the other student experiments that will be performed on the mission were developed in Australia, China, Japan, Israel and Lichtenstein.
The object of the “Ants in Space” experiment is to observe and characterize the effects of space flight on the harvester ants, focusing on their activity level and social interactions. After their return to Earth, the ants and the tunnels they have created will be examined and compared to an equivalent colony kept under similar conditions on the ground.
The Fowler students were chosen to participate in the program in January 2000. ECS was approached by Walsh’s staff to serve as a liaison between Space Media and a Central New York high school. ECS selected Fowler because of the opportunity to work with a city school, and because Fowler had sought the college’s help in developing a magnet school for science and pre-engineering.
“We saw a good, diverse student body, a school with a great vision, and a principal and teachers with a significant commitment to succeed,” says ECS Associate Dean Eric Spina, who has been involved with the project since its inception. “We believed that involvement with this project would help the school and students achieve their goals.”
During the Spring and Fall 2000 semesters, ECS faculty and students worked with Fowler teachers and students to develop and finalize the experimental plan. The students also traveled to Colorado, where they tested the experiment and met the students from other countries who had also developed experiments to be flown on the mission. The original date for the launch was May 2001. Another scheduled launch in July of last year was also postponed.
Several organizations have collaborated in support of the project. SPACEHAB/Space Media underwrote the cost of payload development and support and NASA approval; Uncle Milton Inc. provided the ants; and ECS contributed as needed to help the students complete the project. JetBlue flew the students and teachers to Florida for the launch.
Spina says that watching the launch was the culmination of all the hard work that the students have done on the project over the past three years.
“I know personally that viewing a shuttle launch is an awe-inspiring experience, and I am sure that having an experiment that you have conceived, designed, developed and built enhances the feeling tenfold,” Spina says. “The students had an experience today that few of us will ever have and will surely contribute to their personal career success.”
Upon their return to Syracuse, the students and faculty members will monitor the “Ants in Space” experiment performed during the shuttle mission via computer.