Nanaimo District Secondary School Grade 11 students Parker Davie, Megan Poteryko and Abigail Sitler were at the Kennedy Space Centre today to watch their microgravity experiment with planarian flatworms be launched into orbit. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools)

Nanaimo worms make it into space

Nanaimo District Secondary School students were at Kennedy Space Centre to witness liftoff

Three Nanaimo District Secondary School students were up in the early morning hours to witness the final countdown and launch of a space mission they’ve worked toward since September.

Friday (June 29), Grade 11 students Megan Poteryko, Abigail Sitler and Parker Davie saw the morning dawn with extra brightness as NASA gave the command to launch the SpaceX CRS-15 Mission to the International Space Station at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The launch was at 2:42 a.m. Pacific Standard Time with the students, their families and Martha Parker, teacher and co-director of the Student Spaceflights Experiments Program in Nanaimo, in Florida to witness the launch.

This is first time a Vancouver Island School has participated in a SSEP science adventure with NASA.

The students are sending planarian flatworms into orbit to test the effects of microgravity and the supplement L-carnitine on muscle loss in the creatures. Results of the experiment could help further research into finding ways to prevent astronauts from experiencing muscle mass loss on extended space missions, such as future missions to Mars.

The control experiment with worms not sent into space will be carried out in Nanaimo.

“One right now is in my fridge because I’m going to have to activate it,” said Mary Anne Perkins, NDSS biology teacher and the project’s science coordinator.

The control experiment and actual experiment will have to be activated simultaneously once the flatworms are aboard the International Space Station. The worms are refridgerated and will have to be brought up to room temperature.

“It has to be simultaneous and the whole families are down [in Florida] so there’s no one at home to do the job,” Perkins said.

After the launch the students will do a presentation about their experiment to scientists and astronauts in Florida.

Two mission patches designed by students at NDSS and from the elementary feeder schools accompanied the worms into space as well and will be returned to the schools after the flight.

To watch video of the launch, visit

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