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Former FishHawk Creek students Chandrika Ganduri, Casey Utsler, and Karinna Crespo watch as their cotton seed experiment is launched into space.

Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Team sends seeds into space

May 11, 2016

Three female scientists, all former FishHawk Creek Elementary School students, will be following the frequency rate of the germination of cotton seeds from the International Space Station. The students, Karinna Crespo, Chandrika Ganduri, and Casey Utsler were fifth graders at FishHawk Creek Elementary when their project, which was part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), was selected.  The girls are now all sixth graders at different middle schools, including Mulrennan, Williams Magnet, and Randall, and all three were in attendance as their project was successfully launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral on April 9, 2016.

Mary Vaughn, Science Academic coach from Area VIII, says that “this project has been almost 19 months in the making!”  She reports that 6 teams of students met after school September 2014 through November 2014 at FishHawk Creek to write team proposals.   The top three projects from FishHawk were submitted to the district along with other teams across the district.  The district selected the top three experiments and then from there the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program selected the project to fly to the International Space Station in December 2014.  Team members Karinna, Chandrika, and Casey felt that having a way to grow cotton would be helpful to manufacture clothing for long missions to space.  The seeds were obtained from Dr. Derrick Oosterhuis, Distinguished Professor and Cotton Physiologist from the University of Arkansas. 

SSEP has a very rigorous review process that evaluates the projects in the same way an experiment proposal would go through in the real science world.  Unfortunately, the original mission experienced a catastrophic failure with the rocket that flew the science experiments.    Ms. Vaughn feels it’s important to recognize achievements like the cotton seed project since it exemplifies “real world science research, girls and boys in STEM, perseverance and the reality that science is never perfect and problems must be worked through within the team, just as the Space X team had to work through the problems and fix them before their next launch.”  In addition, she feels strongly that, “It’s important to publicize to show other students that they can do anything that they put their minds to as long as they are willing to work hard and as a team.  Everyone has their own expertise so a team can make it all work.”  Chandrika’s mother comments that, “Chandrika is definitely more interested in science now.  Her perception towards things changed with [her involvement in the] STEM program. She is looking at things in a more problem--solving fashion.” 

For more information about the SSEP project launch, visit  Enjoy photos of the team and the launch by viewing the Flickr album below.


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