“The Sky Isn’t The Limit” Our Experience at Mission Discovery India, 2018

Overview

Last week, 7 students from Inventure Academy of grades 7 to 10 visited Mayo College, a prestigious boarding school in Ajmer, Rajasthan for a conference based on space science – Mission Discovery. The highlight of this conference was the contest based around it- to design an effective and noteworthy experiment that could be conducted on the International Space Station. The winning experiment would be launched into space to be carried out by the astronauts aboard the ISS. Teams were assigned to the students: sixteen groups from a massive number of about a hundred and thirty students. After a few team building activities, we were all set to the task.

It seemed incredibly daunting at first, but we had several mentors to help us. Steve Swanson, a retired NASA astronaut who had been to space not once, but four times; Sarah Murray, who also worked at NASA on the Orion mission project, and Chris Barber, the director of the program were present to teach, lead and assist us. They provided a remarkable insight on life on the ISS, and working with NASA – everything from spacewalks and suit dynamics, to how to work well in a team. Through the team building activities we did, we were able to work past our differences as a group and get to know each other better. On the third day of the conference, another mentor, Julie Keeble, a pharmacologist at Kings’ College, London, joined the team. She helped us take our ideas a step further, meeting with all sixteen teams and answering the endless flow of questions we had.

By the end of the program, we had all worked extremely hard to present the final outcome of our research. Every team managed to put a thought provoking and intelligent experiment on display. We were content and proud that we managed to navigate our way through the seemingly mammoth task, and made it out successful in the end.

Winning team and team building activity winners

Through several team building activities, such as giving their teams interesting and memorable names and coming up with catchy newspaper headlines based on astronaut Steve Swanson’s space experiences, the students at the Mission Discovery conference had a chance to have their work and abilities recognized by their peers. Their creative writing and design skills were put to the test when they were given challenges that focused on their communication abilities, and how accurately yet interestingly they were able to convey their learnings from Swanson. Several teams won a challenge, which was motivating, as well as standard-setting for the other teams. The team naming challenge was won by the team called ‘Captivating Comets’, including Inventure Academy student Siya Dwivedi, and the newspaper headline challenge based on Steve Swanson’s space mission experiences was won by the team called ‘The Infinites’, which included Anvay Das, another student of Inventure Academy.

As the sessions involving the real experiment design came to an end, the students of all 16 teams finalized their experiments and prepared for their presentations. At the end of the 16 presentations, 6 teams with promising experiments that were likely to work and make a difference were chosen by the judges. The teams then had to then present their ideas in front of a panel of judges and all of their peers, as finalists. There were two finalists from Inventure Academy: Sanjana Shahane, whose team found a way of reducing carbon dioxide on the International Space Station, and Siya Dwivedi, whose team investigated methods of increasing the immunity of plants to be grown on the ISS.
Although neither of these teams won Mission Discovery, a very worthy and interesting experiment did, based on decreasing the amount of plastic on the ISS through the use of waxworms.

The students returned home more certain on what they want to do with their futures – ready to face what awaits beyond our planet.

By Akriti Kartik, Sanjana Shahane and Siya Dwivedi