BRANDON — On Tuesday, Kingswood Elementary served as the launching pad for an out-of-this-world competition.
More than 1,100 Hillsborough County elementary students will compete to have their science experiment conducted at the International Space Station next year. The competition is part of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) NanoRacks program.
“They’re working on science experiments that can be conducted in zero gravity,” said Scott Coonfare, fifth-grade teacher at Kingswood and lead project manager for the school’s student space program. “They also have to write a five-page proposal, just like with a real-life science project.”
Coonfare said 105 fifth-grade students will work in teams of three on their respective projects.
The kickoff this week included a visit from Kennedy Space Center engineer George Gabrielle. He answered questions about the space program and showed videos filmed inside the International Space Station.
“I love coming and talking to you guys,” Gabrielle told the assembled fifth graders. He also stressed the importance of staying in school and dreaming big. “It’s important to always have goals, and it’s even more important to never give up.”
Besides Kingswood, the 11 other Hillsborough County elementary schools taking part in the competition are FishHawk, Frost, Gibsonton, Kenly, Lomax, Mango, McKitrick, Morgan Woods, Philip Shore, Reddick and Sheehy.
Hillsborough schools are able to take part in the competition for the first time thanks to a $19,500 grant from the Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union Foundation. The district also received an additional $2,000 from the Florida Space Grant Consortium at the University of Central Florida.
Each participating school will produce one winning team — based on design, experiment samples, a time line and science proposals — which will be announced Nov. 11.
A school district review board then will select three Hillsborough finalists on Nov. 22. Those finalists will have their experiments submitted to the NCESSE review board, which will select one winner in late December.
That winner will see their experiment blasted into space and tested at the International Space Station next year. The winning team also will travel to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Gabrielle and Coonfare supervised a team of Kingswood students as they performed one such experiment — the “elephant toothpaste” exothermic chemistry demonstration — during Tuesday’s kickoff.
“Since the beginning of the school year, the students have been watching NASA TV and other space station videos,” Coonfare said. “There’s great interest in these experiments and everything having to do with space.”