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Mission Discovery lift-off

Posted on 10/01/2014

Experiments designed by UK pupils sent to space for the first time

Experiments devised by secondary school pupils were launched into space last night as part of the International Space School Educational Trust’s (ISSET) Mission Discovery Programme at King’s. It is the first time UK students have had their experiments sent into space, where they will be carried out by astronauts on the International Space Station.
In another world-first, one of the experiments will test the effectiveness of antibiotics in space, something that has never been examined before. The findings could have significant implications for the health of astronauts in space and the development of antibiotics here on Earth.
The launch at NASA’s Wallops Island Launch Centre in the United States follows the Mission Discovery Programme held in July 2012, where 250 budding scientists designed experiments with the guidance of a former astronaut, NASA leaders and scientists from King’s and around the world. The programme is supported by the College’s Widening Participation Department, which runs a series of projects and schemes to inspire young people from under-represented groups to gain the skills and confidence to progress successfully to university.
The schoolchildren competed in teams, with two winning experiments selected by a panel of judges led by Professor Steve Harridge, Director of the Centre of Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College London, and NASA Space Shuttle Commander Ken Ham. The team behind the antibiotics experiment comprises Mahdi Baksh and Amin Habib from Morpeth School, Tower Hamlets; Phoebe Tupper, Emily Yeomans and Deanna Middleton from Gumley House Convent School, Hounslow; and Laurence Cook from Hampton School, London.
The second experiment will examine whether slime mould grows three-dimensionally in space due to the lack of gravity and was designed by Siobhan Gnanakulendran, Frederika Cole, Laurenda Attah-Wegbe, Alfie Dent, Daniel Roth and Colin Taylor, all from Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College in New Cross.

Members of team Supernova prepare their control experiment at King's

Professor Harridge said: ‘NASA suspects that antibiotics may lose effectiveness in space. It will be interesting to find out if this is true as the findings could have huge implications for keeping astronauts healthy.’

He added: ‘The unique growth of slime mould has fascinated scientists for many years. We know that mould grows in 2D on flat surfaces on Earth and are excited to find out how it behaves in space, where the effects of gravity are removed.’
Professor Harridge added: ‘We are delighted to be involved in such a unique initiative, which aims to inspire the next generation of scientists. This has been an excellent opportunity for young people to meet world-leading experts in the field and work on a real-life experiment that will be undertaken on the International Space Station.’
Dr Julie Keeble, a lecturer in Pharmacology at King’s and academic lead in the experimental project development said: 'It has been inspirational to work with such talented young people over the past year in turning their winning projects into workable experiments that can be carried out on the International Space Station.’
Chris Barber, ISSET’s Director, said: ‘We developed Mission Discovery to help young people learn how to be scientifically creative, increase their abilities to work together, and have the chance to achieve something beyond their wildest dreams that is truly out of this world.’

Michelle Ham, who is also the US Director for ISSET, said: 'It was such an incredible privilege to work with so many bright students on King's College London's Mission Discovery Programme. I am honoured to be able to view the maiden voyage of a Mission Discovery experiment into space and I look forward to the launch of many future experiments as Mission Discovery continues to grow.'
Anne-Marie Canning, Head of Widening Participation at King’s, said: ‘Mission Discovery is a fantastic opportunity with many unique benefits. The number one thing that students have told us they’ve taken away from the programme is confidence; having the self-belief to put themselves forward, try new things and expand their horizons. We have sponsored 100 places a year for state school pupils for the past two years and are excited to be doing so again in 2014. King’s and ISSET scientists put on a really wonderful and enriching experience and we in the Widening Participation Department are proud to be a part of bringing this opportunity to as many passionate young scientists as possible.’
Mission Discovery 2013 took place in July this year, with the winning experiments due to be launched in 2014.

Watch the ITV News report, featuring interviews with the winning students.

Notes to editors

Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer at King's College London on 0207 848 3238 or

For further information about Mission Discovery and other Widening Participation activities at King's, visit our website.

Find out more about ISSET on their website.

For further information about King's visit our 'King's in Brief' page.

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