IDA GROVE, Iowa -- When the first commercial space mission, SpaceX Dragon, zooms back to Earth today, a piece of Northwest Iowa comes with it.
Students at OA-BCIG High School, serving the communities of Odebolt, Arthur, Battle Creek and Ida Grove, have an experiment aboard the spacecraft, which was to depart from the International Space Station early Thursday.
This is the second experiment from a high school in Ida County to reach space in the last 12 months. Students at RidgeView High School, serving Galva, Holstein, Schaller, Early and Nemaha, had an experiment on NASA's last Space Shuttle mission in July 2011.
The Ida County Economic Development group instigated these efforts via the Student Space Flight Experiment Program, which has seen that 12 such experiments from students across the U.S. have traveled into space in the last two missions.
Participating students from both Ida County high schools will travel to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. in July to present their findings.
OABCIG High School students sent killifish eggs into space on this mission, one that began with the launch of the unmanned Dragon capsule on May 22 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The Dragon docked at the International Space Station on Friday, at which time astronauts cracked open the killifish eggs fluid mixing enclosure, exposing eggs to space for about five days.
The eggs will be returned to the high school in Ida Grove in a few weeks, allowing students and instructors to compare the sample against those in a control group left at home.
"We want to see if the bones and muscles of the killifish are weaker than those that stayed on earth," says Jessica Gunderson, a 14-year-old sophomore to-be at OABCIG. "We'll also dissect their kidneys to see if they have kidney stones."
Gunderson's experiment was fine-tuned with the aid of Brittanie Rigby, a junior to-be at OABCIG, and incoming high school seniors Austin and Justin Sadler.
"When we started talking about experiments to put in space, people were talking about some complicated ideas," Gunderson says. "And I won't lie: I couldn't wrap my brain around it. Anything you sent up had to be dormant along its way up there.
"I thought it would be cool to look at tiny fish. The killifish was big enough I could see it and we could do test work on it, and it would be dormant."
Remember, this is a 14-year-old talking. She's just starting driver's education and she's examining the effects of micro gravity on an organism's kidneys.
"Our local economic development group, Ida County Economic Development, continues to believe that efforts such as these are what helps provide our students with tools to compete globally," says Rita Frahm, president of the Ida County Economic Development organization.
Gunderson, the daughter of Tim and Mary Gunderson of rural Kiron, Iowa, says she has an interest in space, one fostered by this program.
"I want to go up there, but I don't know if I could be an astronaut," she says. "It sounds a little scary."