by Chandler Paletsky

Staff Writer

Led by science teacher Mrs. Jenifer Kajencki, a team of four Holliston students (Prateek Gowda, Drew Howard, Sam Pond, and Liam Doyle) have been working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to come up with solutions to the numerous issues of deep space travel.

With the guidance of NASA astronaut Charlie Camarda, MIT professor Oliver de Weck, and MIT graduate Sydney Do, our students are taking on a difficult task. Given the name “Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design” or “ICED”, this project will take a great deal of commitment and innovative creativity to complete.

They are attempting to solve two broad issues that NASA will be faced with when they send astronauts to Mars in the future. Assisted by Jeff Barden at Water Fresh Farms in Hopkinton, the team has been working on the first issue: long term survivability in space.

Keeping in mind the time that it will take to reach Mars, 150-300 days (based on various factors), the team has focused its efforts on creating a self sustaining food supply for the astronauts to use on their journey. Mrs. Kajencki and her crew of four students have been growing Bibb lettuce in the Holliston High School greenhouse in order to test different nutrient solutions and environmental factors.

So far the team has made good progress, bringing the Bibb lettuce to its edible state in just six weeks without the use of any nutrient solutions.

“We will probably do two growth cycles before our presentation,” Mrs. Kajencki stated, as we observed the crop development. She went on to say that they intend to increase the growth rate of the plants both by adding nutrient solutions and by changing the lighting and temperature of the room.

The “presentation” is to take place in May and it will give Mrs. Kajencki and her team a chance to show off their agricultural advancements to NASA and MIT personnel. However, Holliston won’t be the only school to show off their innovative skill.

Schools from other parts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and even Houston, Texas are working with the National Space Administration on a variety of problems. Mrs. Kajencki went on to say that NASA is enlisting the help of students across the country because they are “looking for innovative ideas from a fresh perspective.”

She explained that young students who have little experience in this field are possibly better innovators than the experts because they are untainted by the restrictions of current technology and thus put less restrictions on their ideas. Therefore, these students are able to come up with unique solutions to the problems that NASA faces.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to see science in action,” Mrs. Kajencki answered when asked about the current after school program.

She also mentioned that this program will be converted to a full class next year in order to give students more time to progress toward their goals and to possibly get more involvement from the community.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “We have a multi-year commitment to the program so there will be all kinds of opportunities for students.” Next year the group intends to focus their work on the radiation issues that NASA is having.

In addition, Mrs. Kajencki stated that they could possibly visit Matt Silver from Cambrian Innovations. Currently, this company is working on a biofuel system that will use microbes to obtain energy from waste and convert it into mechanical energy which could be used as a power source in the future.

Our students are working on some exciting stuff here and they could quite possibly have an impact on future NASA missions into space. Any students who are interested in the program and want to contribute to these ambitious innovations should speak to Mrs. Kajencki and ask how they can help out.


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