It may sound stranger than fiction, but Wisconsin students, including one who lives in Chippewa Falls, are conducting a science experiment that has them launching phosphorescent mushrooms into space.
The goal is to help human beings, especially astronauts, to survive on other planets through the use of these mushrooms.
Last Saturday, a real life microgravity experience of a group of students attending iForward, Wisconsin’s online charter school, was launched into space from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. , in Florida.
A year ago, this group of college kids wondered if bioluminescent mushrooms would grow in microgravity.
Bioluminescence is the light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism.
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Microgravity is the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless. According to NASA, the effects of microgravity can be observed when astronauts and objects float in space.
In 2021, iForward students designed and proposed an experiment to find out if bioluminescent mushrooms would grow in microgravity. Now their mushrooms have been transported to the International Space Station and are expected to return to our planet in 2023.
This means that these students grow phosphorescent mushrooms in microgravity in space.
In the meantime, the students are growing their own mushrooms here on Earth, which will serve as a control in the experiment.
When performing an experiment, a control is an item that remains unchanged or unaffected by other variables. A control is used as a reference or point of comparison against which other test results are measured.
Students will compare the condition of their space mushrooms to terrestrial mushrooms once the mushrooms from the ISS are brought back to planet Earth.
The work is more than cool, it is functional. This could lead to profound and illuminating possibilities should humans ever colonize other planets.
If humans were trying to live on planets like Mars, they would need food and natural light sources. Glow-in-the-dark mushrooms can help fill that need.
According to their proposal summary, the iForward student team aimed to grow the bioluminescent mushroom Panellus stipticus (a bitter oyster mushroom) in microgravity to see if this species could thrive and become luminescent like it does on Earth.
The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education deemed the experiment worth exploring after Wisconsin middle school students submitted a science proposal to the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program in 2021.
The SSEP program operates through a strategic partnership with Nanoracks, LLC, which works with NASA under a Space Act agreement that allowed the ISS to be used as a national laboratory.
SSEP allows teams of students to design microgravity experiments to examine the effects of microgravity on physical, chemical, or biological systems.
“We started the spaceflight experiments program about five years ago. And the point of this program is that it’s real science,” said Constance Quade, principal and executive director of iForward Online Schools. “Students develop an experiment to be carried out in microgravity. And then it goes through a very rigorous process with several different councils reviewing the experiments and deciding which ones could move forward.
iForward students perform the same experiment as astronauts, Quade said.
“Eventually the experiment will come back to Earth, and collapse, and then it will be sent back to our students,” she said. “And then they’ll compare their mushroom experiments to the mushroom experiment that took place in microgravity and they’ll see what the differences are and how space has impacted the mushrooms.”
Roman Edinger, 12, lives in Chippewa Falls. He is a seventh grader at iForward. Roman and his team’s experiment was chosen from 1,262 submissions that reflected a total of 6,497 students in grades 5-16 engaged in designing experiments. Other students selected to send experiments to the ISS come from Canada, Ukraine and many states in the United States, including Florida, New York, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana and California.
Roman and his classmates have been working hard on the experiment since the fall of 2021. Roman said his science teacher asked all of his students to develop proposals and experiments that the students think would be useful for astronauts in space.
“So my group and I wanted to do an experiment with bioluminescent mushrooms that have, like, medicinal benefits,” Roman said. “They can grow at room temperature and in the dark too. You can eat them; they are edible.
The mushroom experiment was launched into space last Saturday and will spend around the next year at the ISS.
“So we did instructions that we did on Earth, but they’re going to do it in space. We’re going to compare it when the mushrooms come back to Earth in 2023,” Roman said.
Roman said he thought it would be a good experience for several different reasons.
“I wanted to make food that could help astronauts maintain muscle mass due to the effects of space. They lose muscle mass. So that was one of the things I wanted. They are exposed to radiation. So mushrooms could prevent diseases caused by these kinds of things,” he said.
Science Daily scientist Fydor Kondrashov said, “If we think of sci-fi scenarios in which glowing plants replace streetlights, that’s it. It is the breakthrough that can lead to this.
Astronauts are now busy preserving mushroom growth until they can be observed and compared on Earth.
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