It really is Rocket Science!
We can now reveal the results of our national science experiment!
In the summer of 2016, 600,000 children became space biologists as they began a 35 day experiment to sow and grow rocket seeds that has spent six months on board the International Space Station (ISS).
We can now reveal the results of the experiment and share with you the experiences felt by the individuals that took part.
What is Rocket Science?
In 2014 we put a plan together with the UK Space Agency to create an exciting science experiment to tie in with British European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the ISS.
Rocket Science was born and on 3 September 2015, one million (2kg) tiny rocket seeds (Eruca sativa) were launched into space to begin a six month stay on board the ISS.
Over 8,600 schools and groups across the UK signed up to receive a packet of these seeds and were given a mission: to grow the seeds once they returned alongside an identical packet of seeds that had remained on Earth.
Unaware which packet contained the space seeds, these young space biologists nurtured their seedlings between April and June 2016, taking specified measurements and carefully recording their data.
The aim of this experiment was to investigate whether space travel affected the germination and growth of the rocket and whether this could help us understand more about how astronauts might be able to grow their own food on long space missions or even another planet in the future.
Red or Blue?
We packed the space seeds and the Earth seeds into two different coloured packets, red and blue, and asked our participants to predict which one they thought contained the space seeds.
61% guessed blue and 39% guessed red. A very special video was released in June 2016 with Tim Peake revealing the answer was indeed blue!
We received data from over 5,000 of our participants which is an absolutely fantastic number. We then called on the help of Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland (BioSS) to analyse the results.
The results varied from group to group but overall they suggest that, on average, the space seeds grew less well than the seeds that had remained on Earth.
We spoke to four leading plant scientists to understand why this may have happened and it is clear that radiation is the most likely culprit.
Jason Hatton, Head of Biology and Environmental Monitoring at the European Space Agency, said “Radiation is the biggest risk for dormant seeds stored for a long time in the space environment because cosmic rays are so energetic. When they impact the ISS there is a showering effect and they fragment further and become even more energetic. Nuclei and some protons can penetrate the ISS and interact with any biological material on board. They either pass through the seed, or deposit energy there. They can fragment further once inside the seed too, which leads to greater damage.”
The Rocket Science Report
We have put together a colourful and exciting report for you to download and keep.
Rocket Science: Our Voyage of Discovery contains the full results from the experiment, lots of interesting theories from pupils that took part, feedback from scientists, quotes from pupils and of course some of the wonderful photos that were sent to us during the experiment. There is also a personal thank you from Tim Peake himself.
Download 'Rocket Science: Our Voyage of Discovery'
We would like to thank all 600,000 of our space biologists that took part in this experiment. It has been a fantastic journey and we have been overwhelmed by the amazing response we have had from you all.
We have enjoyed seeing the thousands of messages and photos pouring in via email, Twitter and Facebook.
By taking part, you have all been a part of a real scientific investigation and you have learnt how to nurture a plant from a tiny seed into a salad that can be eaten. We hope this project has inspired many of you to continue studying science or even continue to learn more about growing plants.