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After a month in space, Hillsborough students' science experiment returns to earth

From left, classmates and friends Chandrika Ganduri, Karinna Crespo and Casey Utsler explain how sterile tubes inside a bag play into their space science experiment.
From left, classmates and friends Chandrika Ganduri, Karinna Crespo and Casey Utsler explain how sterile tubes inside a bag play into their space science experiment.
Published May 12, 2016

A science experiment designed by three Hillsborough County students returned to Earth on Wednesday after spending a month in space aboard the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying the experiment splashed down at 2:51 p.m. about 260 miles southwest of Long Beach, Calif., according to NASA. The experiment was among 3,700 pounds of cargo aboard the returning capsule.

The experiment's return is the culmination of nearly two years of work for sixth-graders Karinna Crespo, 12; Chandrika Ganduri, 12; and Casey Utsler, 11 — former classmates at Fishhawk Creek Elementary School in Lithia — who saw one iteration of their experiment go up in flames. Their first experiment was aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded less than three minutes after launch on June 28.

This time the experiment, which tested the rates of cotton seed germination in low gravity, successfully blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on April 8 aboard a new Falcon 9 rocket. The experiment will be shipped back to Hillsborough County in two or three days, said Jeff Goldstein, director of Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, the organization that arranges for students to fly their experiments aboard rockets bound for the space station.

The experiment isn't done yet, though. Once the students get their experiment back, they'll compare the growth of the space seeds to the growth of seeds that remained on Earth. They hope their research could provide valuable information for an eventual manned mission to Mars, where astronauts might have to cultivate their own crops.

Also aboard the Dragon capsule that returned to Earth on Wednesday were samples collected from astronaut Scott Kelly's year in space; a spacesuit within which a water bubble formed, prematurely ending a January spacewalk; and other science experiments.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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