Rocket Science: Turning UK Children into Space Biologists

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Campaign for School Gardening has partnered with the UK Space Agency to embark on an innovative educational project, to be launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (19 – 23 May 2015). The project, Rocket Science, will give around half a million children the chance to learn how investment in human space exploration contributes to our knowledge of life on Earth, using the invaluable expertise of the European Space Agency (ESA) and RHS Science team.

Rocket Science will involve 2kg of an as-yet un-named cultivar of rocket seeds (Eruca sativa, a popular salad variety) sent to the International Space Station as part of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s six-month Principia mission. After several months on board, orbiting the planet at 17,000mph, the seeds will be returned to Earth and sent to thousands of UK schools, alongside a batch of seeds of the same cultivar that have stayed on Earth. Over the following months pupils will grow and compare the seeds as they embark on a voyage of discovery to see whether we can sustain human life in space through the production of our own food. The results of the nationwide citizen science experiment will then be analysed to discover whether space travel has impacted on the growth of the seeds.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake said:

“It’s a huge privilege to be the first British ESA astronaut flying to the International Space Station. During my six-month tour, I’ll be conducting a number of experiments on the International Space Station. I hope that Rocket Science will inspire the next generation to think scientifically, and to consider the fulfilling careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).”

Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said:

“Britain’s space industry is going from strength to strength, and for this to continue it’s right we inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. ‘Rocket Science’ is doing just that by giving thousands of schoolchildren the opportunity to play a part in Tim’s mission to the International Space Station, while learning new skills in a fun and unique way.”

To introduce the project, an inspiring exhibition will be on show in the Discovery Zone at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, complete with a real-life Mars Rover and a team of ESA’s leading scientists on hand to talk about their work in this field. Set across four zones, interactive displays will take the visitor through the past, present and future of plants in space, discovering the important role scientists play in helping plants to thrive in inhospitable conditions, how space exploration helps solve problems on Earth and even the plants astronauts need to survive long-term missions.

Claire Custance, RHS Skills Development Manager – Education & Learning, said:

“Rocket Science is a really exciting project for us, and a unique chance to get even more schools engaging with horticulture and science. Working with a partner like the UK Space Agency brings a fresh and exciting perspective on horticulture in the National Curriculum. We look forward to discovering the results of the nationwide experiment.”

Further details of the project will be made available following its launch at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Schools will be able to apply for seeds from September 2015 via the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website.

Along with the seeds, schools and other educational organisations will be able to use a comprehensive suite of teaching and learning resources that are being developed by the RHS Campaign for School Gardening and Science and Plants for schools. Resources for both primary and secondary schools will be available, and will include suggestions on scientific investigations and experiments inspired by the project and even details on how to design and build a table top Mars greenhouse.

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