Nanaimo students use SSEP program to send worms to space

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for high school students will research ways to build muscle in space
SSEP ISS The International Space Station is going to be a little more wriggly this June. (Sasa Kadrijevic |

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) lets North American students send science projects to space to be carried out on the International Space Station (ISS). Over the past eight years, around 74,680 students have sent 16,261 experiments into orbit. What a cool idea, right?

And now thanks to the SSEP, three Grade 11 students from Nanaimo, B.C. — Megan Poteryko, Parker Davie, and Abigail Sitler — are joining them.

Possibly even cooler? Their experiment involves...worms! (A species of flatworm to be exact.)

Mighty flatworms


"I may not be pretty, but I'm going to space!" Flatworms like this one will be used to test the students' theory on muscle growth in space. (Getty Embed)

Just how would putting flatworms on board the ISS forward the cause of science? One of the biggest problems for astronauts who spend a long time in space is muscle loss. (Just ask Scott Kelly.) Muscles lose their strength because they no longer have to fight against gravity's pull. That's why scientists are looking for a way to promote muscle growth in zero gravity— scientists like Megan Poteryko, Parker Davie, and Abigail Sitler!

Their experiment involves testing a specific drug on the flatworms. This drug is also used by athletes to help grow muscle. While NASA astronauts conduct an experiment on the ISS, the students will run their own version on Earth. In the end, they should be able to tell if, and how well the drug helps muscles stay strong in space.

Stiff competition

Though the big opportunity was up for grabs, the competition was stiff. These three students had to submit a report to the SSEP which was then put up against hundreds of entries from across Canada and the United States. Even after the students became one of 30 experiments chosen for the honour, they had one more hurdle to clear: raising $24,000 to send their project into orbit!

Considering all of this, the trio from Nanaimo are understandably pinching themselves. Now it's all hands on deck to refine and perfect the experiment before its June 6 launch date. As long as it all goes well, they'll get to go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launch. Bon voyage, flatworms!

Watch the determined threesome talk about it in the video below!

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