LITTLETON - Don't let their young ages fool you: these budding scientists might be some of the youngest ever to send an experiment up to the International Space Station.
"I love science," fifth grade student Maddison Gargiulo said.
Maddison, along with Kylie Dappen and Meghan Simpson, are all fifth graders at Mount Carbon Elementary School in Littleton.
The trio beat out dozens of other teams - including high school students - in a competition to get their experiment sent up to space. Their project has a specific focus.
"To see if microgravity affects the life cycle of a ladybug," Meghan said.
The small bugs could end up playing a role in sending humans into deep space, including Mars.
"They're thinking Mars might be a suitable planet to live on," Maddison said. "So, they might use space gardens in there."
Space gardens, which are now under development, might be key to making sure humans on long space missions have enough food to survive. Ladybugs eat other insects that can damage crops, so they're considered a good alternative to chemical pesticides.
"Never have I been more interested about ladybugs in my whole entire life," Meghan said.
Just how long ladybugs can survive in space is a big question and one this experiment hopes to answer.
"What we think is going to happen is that the ladybug life cycle is going to be sped up because of the microgravity-because what we've learned is that bacteria grows faster in microgravity," Kylie said. "So, we think that it'll speed up the life cycle."
The ladybugs aren't always cooperative, often trying to fly or crawl out of their tank. While things don't always go smoothly, their teachers say it's all part of the learning experience.
"There was frustration. There were tears," said Pamela Laidley, a teacher at Mount Carbon. "It was so real life."
A patch designed by fellow classmate Ben Hariyadi will also head up into space. Astronauts on the ISS will wear it on their uniform.
"I don't really know how I came up with it, but I just think it's really cool to design a badge for an astronaut," Ben said.
Getting kids excited about space is something teachers push for through the national Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
"My part was largely to get them started and the next part is to watch these kids because they're the ones that are going to sparkle," said Dakota Ridge High teacher Bill Schmidt, who was their liaison to the SSEP.
Their ladybug experiment is set to launch from Cape Canaveral in June.
The students are working to raise the money right now to be able to go to the launch. If you want to help, contact teacher Bill Schmidt at email@example.com.
When their experiment comes back to Earth, the students will also be presenting their findings before a group of scientists at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
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