SpaceX successfully launched and docked its 21st commercial resupply services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier this afternoon. This mission, which launched from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carried thousands of pounds of supplies and research to our nation’s orbiting laboratory. In addition to the multitude of research from established investigators, this mission also includes experiments that engage thousands of students around the world. Student research and educational enrichment payloads sponsored by the ISS U.S National Laboratory, such as those on this mission, aim to inspire the next generation of researchers and explorers through space-based inquiry.

A key initiative of the ISS National Lab is to leverage the ISS for inquiry-based learning that engages students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics and stimulates them to think in new ways. Participating in research on the ISS is a powerful experience that stays with students for years and empowers them with the skills needed to succeed in STEM fields—which is critical for the success of the future STEM workforce. In the past, most STEM investigations sponsored by the ISS National Lab have focused on students in grades 5-12. However, in the coming years, the ISS National Lab will seek additional ways to engage college-aged students and promote industry-related workforce development in the continued effort to drive a robust and sustainable market in low Earth orbit.

Below highlights some of the education payloads launching on SpaceX CRS-21.

This mission includes more than 30 separate experiments from the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which provides yearly opportunities for students in communities around the world to leverage the space station for research using MixStix testing tubes. Investigations from this year’s participating students span a variety of research areas, including the physical and life sciences as well as plant biology. More than 3,000 proposals were submitted by students seeking to take advantage of this flight opportunity, and the 30 student investigations selected for flight are supported by ISS National Lab Commercial Service Provider Nanoracks. Since its inception in 2010, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program—a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education—has engaged more than 125,000 students in space-based projects.

Over the years, more than 7 million tomato seeds have been sent to low Earth orbit and exposed to microgravity to engage the next generation of scientists and engineers. Tomatosphere™ is an educational program in which students and teachers compare the germination rates of space-flown seeds and Earth-based seeds. The program provides students with a glimpse into how the unique microgravity environment of the ISS affects plant growth. On this mission, 1.2 million seeds will be sent to the ISS and remain in orbit between 10 and 60 days. Both the seeds sent to the ISS and those that remain on the ground will be monitored, and data on temperature, humidity, and pressure will be tracked. In addition to teaching students about important topics in STEM and agriculture, data gathered through the program also aids in the development of biological life-supporting technologies for use on spacecraft. Tomatosphere™, operated by the First the Seed Foundation, has reached millions o
f students in classrooms and home learning environments around the world.

To learn more information about all payloads sponsored by the ISS National Lab on SpaceX CRS-21, please visit our launch page.


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About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Lab manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space is the nonprofit responsible for management of the ISS National Lab.