NASA

A diagram of the Dillard students' shrimp experiment is placed next to a live NASA broadcast at Dillard Elementary, June 1. 

The International Space Station picked up cargo from Wilton on June 5. NASA astronauts will see how microgravity impacts fairy shrimp by conducting an experiment designed by Mike Nelson’s fifth and sixth grade students at Dillard Elementary School.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center and carried the shrimp project to the station. Dillard was among a select few schools across the country to have their experiments taken to space that day.

"It was exciting to see a successful launch. It has been a long and complicated process, and the work will continue as the astronauts and the students work to complete the experiment,” Nelson said. “This is something we will look back on with a great sense of pride."

The students spent more than a year designing and building the project. And like many NASA scientists, they were disappointed to watch the original launch, set for June 1, cancelled by bad weather.

“If they keep cancelling it, we’ll probably do (the experiment) in high school,” student Sean Rowing joked.

This project was a part of NASA’s Student Spaceflight Experiments program that challenged students to create projects for NASA to complete on the International Space Station.

Several elementary schools in the Elk Grove school district also proposed projects for the mission. Nelson’s students visited vernal pools at Mather Field and came up with the idea of seeing what happens to fairy shrimp in outer space.

“Some kids wanted to do something with a rabbit or a grasshopper, and I said, ‘Guys, it’s got to fit in this,” Nelson said, while holding up a plastic test-tube.

In the experiment, shrimp eggs will be mixed with spring water and detritus in the tube, which causes them to hatch. A chemical in the tube will later be released to preserve the shrimp for study. Meanwhile, Nelson will perform the experiment at Dillard during the same time in order to see how earthbound shrimp compared to the shrimp in the station.

Nelson’s students believe that the shrimp’s muscles will deteriorate in low-gravity at the space station.

“If we’re going to put people in space then we’ll have to grow food in space,” he said. “Will the fish flesh be like Jello? What’s the nutritional value if there’s no muscle mass?”

Rowing and his classmates Josue Escobar, Mason Maroney, Dulcemaria Rodriguez, and Cora Monson help created the project that had to follow NASA’s strict guidelines for proposals.

“It was a wonderful opportunity, they are learning and forging a path,” Dillard’s principal, Sandra Wiest said. “I can see these students actually going on and deciding to be scientists.”

Another part of the project’s challenge was securing enough funds. SpaceX, a private aerospace company led by Tesla founder Elon Musk, charged more than $23,000 for a reserved spot on their rocket to the space station.

Dillard’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) played a key role in raising enough funding for Nelson’s students.

“They could inspire the (students) coming up behind them to put up the same effort as they put out and go the extra mile,” Joe Guardino of the Dillard PTO said.

Asked if this project will be his one and only NASA experiment, Rowing replied, “Well, you’ll never know.”