BUFFALO — A group of Wellsville High School students are boldly sending a piece of the town where it has never gone before. 

To outer space. 

An original experiment proposal developed by a team of Wellsville students was selected for testing on the International Space Station in this year’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), Mission 12 to the International Space Station.

SSEP is a national STEM education initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Education (NCESSE). The local program was organized by the WNY STEM Hub.

The Wellsville team’s proposal, “The Effect of Ascorbic Acid on Planarian Regeneration in Microgravity,” aims to find evidence of the effects of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) on planarian regeneration. Vitamin C is essential to the function of the human body.

“This is a true testimony to the outstanding STEM education taught in our region’s schools,” says Michelle Kavanaugh, President of WNY STEM Hub. “Substantial sponsorship from 21 regional businesses, and the commitment of dedicated educators make life-changing programs like this possible for today’s students on their way to becoming tomorrow’s innovators.”

Six seniors at Wellsville Secondary developed the proposal with biology instructor Ross Munson. The group included Tyler Watson, Brandon Bailey, David Graham, Shannon Nye, Trinity Roulo and Nichelle Dannheim.

“It’s important for science students to understand the scientific process and experimental design process," Munson said. "This project is a real-world experience. The skills they learned are invaluable and will put them ahead of their science peers.”

The students agree that the SSEP project was unique and special.

Tyler Watson said, “We’ve done labs for various sciences, but rarely have we had a chance to actually design and test an experiment of our own,” a comment echoed by teammate Shannon Nye. 

“It exposed me to things I generally wouldn’t learn in school, and brought us closer together as a class,” Nye said. 

Brandon Bailey likes the sense of accomplishment, and David Graham appreciates the team atmosphere where everyone contributed to the proposals completion. Students selected the proposal topic through brainstorming sessions and a final vote to decide on this examination of regeneration.

The Wellsville team is now providing SSEP with flight safety documentation and continuing ground truth experimentation, with guidance from advisors from SUNY Alfred State and Alfred University. The launch will occur sometime in 2018.

The WNY STEM Hub, in collaboration with NCESSE, SSEP Mission 12 organized the WNY Coalition of 13 schools and learning sites in Buffalo, Lockport, Lackawanna, Tonawanda, Niagara Falls, and Olean in addition to Wellsville. This unique STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program gives students authentic experiences in designing their own experiments using microgravity labs, and writing real world flight proposals. Proposals were reviewed by a local panel of judges and the Wellsville experiment, along with proposals from Olean High School and Lockport High School were submitted to SSEP for review by national judges.

Local honorable mentions go to teams from Harry Abate Elementary School in Niagara Falls, King Urban Life Center and Futures Academy in Buffalo, and Olean High School.

Praxair and National Grid were the lead local sponsors for SSEP Mission 12 to the ISS locally, with additional support coming from Dresser-Rand, Siemens, Cutco, K-Technologies, CannonDesign, First Niagara Foundation, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, and other business and individual donors.

As part of SSEP Mission 12, a Mission Patch Design competition for the WNY Coalition will begin in January, where students will create original designs in keeping with an almost 60-year space flight tradition. Two winning Mission Patches will also be in the Mission 12 to the ISS payload.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) was developed by astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Goldstein, who founded the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE). The SSEP is undertaken by NCESSE in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC NanoRacks, LLC, which work in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Stations as a National Laboratory.

This is the second time a WNY team was successful in the SSEP competition. In 2015, a team of students (nicknamed The Spud Launchers) from Hamlin Park Academy in Buffalo had its experiment launched to the ISS in 2017.

The program originated in 2010 to address national strategic needs in Workforce Development for the 21st Century designed to inspire the next generation of U.S. scientists & engineers. SSEP has had 13 flight opportunities involving 142 communities in the U.S. and Canada through the first thirteen flight opportunities, 74,680 grade 5-16 students were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing. This is the first time a cohort of Western New York students will participate.

The WNY STEM Hub has more than 700 individual members representing more than 250 organizations in Western New York. It is an initiative of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and is affiliated with the National STEM Funders Network, the national STEMx network and the Empire State STEM Learning Network. Its aim is to create awareness and partnerships that serve learners of all ages in accessing STEM/STEAM learning and careers. Visit wnystem.org for details.