The first 4-H In Space: Mission Command Team of Space Ambassadors attended the Higher Orbits: Go For Launch! science program hosted at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in July 2022. Forty-eight 4-H teens from 4 states — Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and Indiana — worked in teams alongside space-industry professionals and astronaut Dr. JR Reilly to design their own experiments.
Experiments aimed to expand human knowledge of life in space, and tackle obstacles to expanding the boundaries of space travel – such as food. Agriculture was a major theme among the dozen experimental designs. The winning experiment “Growing Spirulina in Space” is slated to launch to the International Space Station National Lab in 2023 through the Higher Orbits program. Keep an eye open for launch details to be shared, just keep in mind launches and payloads are impacted by many factors; details are up in the air, until they’re literally in the air.
The 4-H Space Ambassadors prepared by exploring and learning about space science through resources of the International Space Station National Lab (ISS-NL) Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and their land-grant universities. Leveraging hands-on science programs, they also led a series of outreach programs for youth.
Launching the Workforce of the Future
Florida’s 12 teen space ambassadors hosted 25 events reaching 641 youth and 27 adults! Following their outreach programs, both the teen ambassadors and youth outreach participants reported significant increases in awareness of the space industry.
These new experiences create the foundation for educational pathways, career opportunities, and exploring the connections between science on earth and in space.
Space Ambassadors launch into action in Palm Beach County
Four teens from Palm Beach County participated in the Higher Orbits: Go for Launch experience. They continue to serve as Space Ambassadors through the UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County 4-H Youth Development Program. Taha, a teen 4-H Space Ambassador, is currently leading an active Palm Beach 4-H Tomatosphere™ project at Palm Springs Middle School with science teacher, Ms. Kristen Karvonen, and her 4-H Agent, Noelle Guay. Created by First the Seed Foundation, Tomatosphere™ “uses the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry.”
Palm Springs Middle School students are using Tomatosphere™ seeds to investigate effects of the space environment on tomato seeds. Ms. Karvonen’s students received two packages of Tomatosphere™ tomato seeds and a hydroponic grow tower from Palm Beach County 4-H. One package contains seeds that have been sent into space and the other contains “control” seeds, which have been kept on Earth. Through the Tomatosphere™ project, students learn how to conduct a scientific experiment and compare germination rates.
At the start of the project, Taha discussed her time in the Go for Launch program and the experiment she and her teammates from Arizona, Illinois, and Indiana designed using mushrooms as composters in Space. Once the germination phase is complete, the Palm Springs Middle School students will submit their results to Tomatosphere™ and discover which seeds were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Dragon on July 18, 2016 and docked with the ISS two days later.
Since the Higher Orbits: Go for Launch program, the four Palm Beach County 4-H Space Ambassadors have co-led Tomatosphere™ with 90 elementary, middle, and high school students in schools and 4-H clubs. The Space Ambassadors are also joining the Palm Beach County 4-H Youth Leadership Council with the goal of starting a 4-H SPIN Club focused on Tomatosphere™ to bring this amazing project to other youth within the county. One of the requirements in participating in the 4-H Space Ambassador program is that all Space Ambassadors must give back to their community through outreach activities. In Palm Beach County 4-H, the four Space Ambassadors are merging with the Youth Leadership Council, to lead the SPIN club as teen teachers. Defined as ‘an educational arrangement in which one student teaches one or more fellow students’ (Ten Cate and Durning, 2007a), peer teaching offers opportunities for new knowledge and skills to be learned by both teen teacher (Nestell and Kidd, 2005) and younger 4-H member (Graham, et al., 2008).
The 4-H In Space and Go For Launch! programs have been made possible through collaboration with Higher Orbits, a team of Extension 4-H professionals, and support from the ISS National Lab Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, along with supporters of the Florida 4-H Foundation.
Are you a 4-H alumnus or friend of the program as a volunteer, advocate, or a supportive parent or guardian? Subscribe to the Florida 4-H Alumni + Friends Community for news and updates. You can connect with 4-H locally through your Extension County Office. Contact Caylin Hilton at grow4H@ifas.ufl.edu or 352.392.5432 for more information on supporting and getting plugged in with 4-H.
4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university and Cooperative Extension system. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5-18 with the objective of developing young people as individuals and responsible citizens. 4-H empowers youth to be leaders in their communities today, and for the future. In Florida, 4-H is administered by UF/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University.