André Kuipers will not have to manage all on his own in the International Space Station. The astronaut will have help from over sixty thousand children at primary and secondary schools. Together they will carry out the "Seeds in Space" experiment to examine the effects of light and gravity on plant growth.
The children, aged 11 to 13, will follow the "Young Scientists' Action Plan" in April. After following lessons about living in space, space research and plant growth, they will take part in the experiment by planting rucola (salad cress) seeds in two trays. One of these will be kept in the dark and the other will be exposed to light.
"Children are preparing for the spaceflight and the experiment in the same way as André Kuipers. On 19 April, they will be ready together for the launch", says Jasper Wamsteker, spokesman for the project's initiator, the Space Research Organisation Netherlands (SRON).
During his mission to the Space Station, André Kuipers will make contact twice via a televised link-up. On the first occasion, he will officially launch the "Seeds in Space" project. The second time, four days later, he will show his experiment in the Space Station. Participants on Earth will be able to compare this with their own experiment and draw initial conclusions about the effect of gravity on plant growth.
"Seeds in Space", financed by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, has become an international experiment, as is shown by data from the Dutch Experiment Support Centre (DESC). In addition to over nine thousand children at secondary schools and over 52,000 at primary schools, three schools in the Netherlands Antilles and six thousand participants in Germany have registered for the project. Says Mr Wamsteker: "We thought that we would get a good reaction, but this exceeds our wildest expectations."
This week, at the Russian astronaut training centre known as Star City, André Kuipers will complete the final preparations for "Seeds in Space". He will rehearse all the procedures once more and look for the best place in the Space Station to plant the seeds. Kuipers is expecting it to be a great success: "This is a splendid way to introduce children to science. They will see that space research can be very exciting and great fun."