Students to present idea to NASA

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School fifth-graders Alyssa Burandt and Taylor Starkey will present their idea for a Lunar Plant Growth Chamber at a NASA symposium in Houston.

While the average fifth-grade mind ruminates over the weekend’s Little League game and getting to Disney World in the summer, two Mack Benn Jr. Elementary students are stretching the limits of childhood endeavor.

Alyssa Burandt and Taylor Starkey are the envy of their classmates after being selected to present their idea for what they call a Lunar Plant Growth Chamber, which would use water from the moon to grow food with hydroponics, at the 2012 NASA Student Symposium in May.

The students earned the honor after they and another Mack Benn team, which christened its own idea Lunar Base and Habitat, fielded a volley of questions from NASA scientists during a videoconference.

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“They had to respond to questions from scientists off-the-cuff,” gifted resource teacher Elizabeth Petry said.

“To me, it gives students a chance to participate in an interactive learning environment, to see people who really work in these fields.”

Alyssa, 11, said the idea came to her while she was watching television.

“On the History Channel, I heard there’s water somewhere on the moon,” she said. “So we could probably grow plants easily on the moon.”

She said her parents took her out to dinner when they discovered the news, which her mom announced on Facebook. “It feels really good, but I’m a little bit nervous,” Alyssa said.

Taylor, 10, said she is so excited that she is “freaking out” and never imagined the idea would be such a hit with the space agency’s bigwigs.

“I didn’t think it would make it this far,” she said. “We thought it would work, because not only does it not take a lot of water, taking water from Earth would make it even more heavy to take up there.”

When Taylor’s mother learned her daughter would be attending the event at Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, she broke out the video camera to record the moment, Taylor said.

“She told me, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you made it this far!’”

Mack Benn, a NASA Explorer School, also had a team attend last year’s symposium, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Mack Benn fielded eight teams this year, with judges at the school narrowing the field down to the two that presented their ideas to NASA.

The idea had to be something NASA could realistically put to use, Petry said.

“From last year’s experience, they will be invited to areas (of the space center) tourists would never get into.”