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Junior scientists: Menomonie High School science classes aid International Space Station with experiments

posted May 18, 2017 11:15 p.m. | updated May 18, 2017 11:16 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Pamela Powers. bio | email

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    Contributed photo | Enlarge
    - Menomonie High School students Ben Ebert, left, and Steven Yang conduct a modeling experiment as part of Orion’s Quest. They attempted to determine how an astronaut changed out growth solution in wells that had heart cells at the International Space Station.

MENOMONIE — Menomonie High School science students are working on experiments that could affect astronauts’ health and future heart health for earthlings.

Angela Krause-Kuchta, a science teacher who came to the school this week with the Orion’s Quest program, had students take part in experiments conducted on the International Space Station, including one to study the effects of microgravity on the human heart.

On Monday, students had to figure out how to remove waste and change the solution for heart cells to keep them fed like those on the station, following a project an astronaut had to do.

“It is valuable for them to see real-world problems faced by researchers,” Krause-Kuchta said.

On Thursday, students counted heartbeats of the cells to create data on what effects space and microgravity are having on them, she said.

Orion’s Quest is a national nonprofit engaging primarily middle and high school students in world-class research currently being conducted on the space station. Through observation and analysis of research videos downlinked from orbit and into the classroom, students provide real data that is passed on to the scientists in support of research databanks.

Orion’s Quest is the only organization in the U.S. that offers a program of this kind. The group provides all materials and support needed for the experience, and the program is provided free of charge. Teachers can choose to engage their students in live missions currently being conducted on the station, or virtual missions that support past experiments for which scientists continue to collect data. Orion’s Quest was founded in 2001 and is supported by individual donations and foundation grants.

The current live mission, Stem on Station, studies the effects of microgravity on the human heart. The findings of this research could advance the understanding and treatment of heart disease on Earth. Current virtual missions include studies of the effects of space on microbes, plant growth, spiders, fruit flies, butterflies and worms.

Junior Sophie Voss said she enjoyed being able to help solve a research problem.

“We ended up being close to what the astronaut did,” she said.

Taking part in Orion’s Quest teaches her more about research on the space station, Voss said.

“I didn’t know they were doing research that applies to all our lives,” she said.

Senior Tayia Wik said doing research that actually will be used to help astronauts makes classwork more interesting.

“We’re actually doing something active,” she said. “It makes it more fun.”

Krause-Kuchta is the education director for Orion’s Quest, a position she has held since 2006. She helps write curriculums for the projects, meets with researchers and helps translate projects into middle school and high school curriculums.

“Having a staff member who is also a practicing teacher brings important insights to our curriculum development process,” Peter Lawrie, Orion’s Quest executive director, said in a news release. “This work supports world class scientists and we are thrilled that forward looking teachers have seized on this opportunity to expose their students to the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education at this level.”

Orion’s Quest recruits teachers year-round, and opportunities are still available for participation in this year’s missions. Interested educators can contact program director Tom Drummond at or 734-546-0556.

Contact: 715-556-9018,, @MenomonieBureau on Twitter