Santa Clarita Valley residents Hutch and Sophia Siegen, sixth- and fifth-grade students at iLEAD Schools, are taking their science experiment out of this world.
While participating in iLEAD’s DreamUp to Space mission, a program that helps students become pioneers of space science, the Siegens were able to combine their passions for gardening and space, with an experiment to germinate carrot seeds in space.
A little over a year after submitting their experiment, the Siegens are traveling to Kennedy Space Center to present their experiment and watch it be launched into space Thursday, en route to the International Space Station.
Growing the idea
After planting a garden with their grandmother during quarantine, filled with herbs, squash, carrots, tomatoes and more, the Siegens began to wonder if these same plants would be nutritious space food for astronauts.
This took their knowledge and curiosity of space, inspired by their cousin who is a NASA space technology research fellow student at University of California, Los Angeles, to another level.
After some research and experimenting of their own, the Siegens discovered root vegetables are less likely to absorb radiation when grown in space, finding that carrots were the perfect space food.
Through their research, the Siegens were able to identify some of the key adaptations necessary to successfully gardening in a space environment, which has very different constraints than on Earth, according to Alison Waterman, project manager for DreamUp.
Not only could carrots be grown hydroponically and germinate in microgravity, but also they could provide a sustainable source of essential vitamins and nutrients for astronauts, and with such small seeds, many could be brought on long space voyages and grown onboard, the Siegens found.
The Siegens submitted their experiment to DreamUp to Space, and were one of two teams chosen.
Getting to space
To help with the project, the Siegens partnered with other iLEAD students to create a team they named “Team Carrot,” and set to work, meeting weekly, virtually, to optimize their experiment for space.
Team Carrot also had to work to fundraise for the experiment, holding fundraising events and even contacting Burpee Seed Company, their choice of carrot seed, which ended up being a major donor to the project.
While completing the entire experiment virtually was the Siegens’ biggest challenge, it was also their biggest reward, as it allowed them to collaborate with people from all over the world, including Jacob Cohen, chief scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, whose curiosity has inspired them to think big, they agreed.
Time for takeoff
“This group of young people — along with their facilitators/teachers and their families — have just blown us away,” said Kathleen Fredette, director of STEAM Initiatives at iLEAD. “Despite not being able to meet or do any of the experiment optimization … in person, we are about to take a delegation of 40 people to Kennedy Space Center where our teams will present their ideas and then watch their experiments launch to ISS on SpaceX 22.”
Once at the ISS, the experiment with Team Carrot’s Burpee carrot seeds is scheduled to progress for 30-45 days, in tandem with a control experiment run on Earth.
Once the sample comes back from space, the team is set to analyze both samples to compare how the seeds germinated in microgravity as compared to Earth, with Team Carrot hoping to observe root growth and the cotyledon (seed leaves) in approximately 21 days.
To follow Team Carrot’s project, visit ileadaerospace.org.
Starting your own garden
Gardening is a great activity for kids, as it’s both hands-on and educational, and with National Garden Week coming up June 6-12, it’s an opportune time to get your own garden started.
“Lean into gardening’s educational nature by helping your children start their seeds in a glass jar,” said Kristen Krikorian, vice president of marketing for Burpee. “Throughout the sprouting process, they will be able to see how the plant develops little by little, each and every day.”