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Students experiment takes Endeavours final flight

Jackson Middle School plan to grow crystals chosen in nationwide competition
by: Submitted photo Seventh-graders Celeste Brown and Josie Smith’s experiment tests the effect of a zero-gravity environment on the growth of protein crystals produced by cancer cells. Their experiment is headed into space on the Endeavour.

After numerous delays, NASA's space shuttle Endeavour finally lifted off Monday morning, carrying a tiny bit of Portland with it.

Led by astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the six-person Endeavour crew is headed to the International Space Station with six science experiments from schools around the world in tow.

One of them comes from Southwest Portland's Jackson Middle School.

Jennifer Kelley, a Jackson science teacher and longtime space program enthusiast, applied for the opportunity last year as part of a program by the National Center for Earth and Space Education. The project drew 447 proposals from schools across the nation.

When Jackson was selected, a school contest drew three top entries. The winning proposal came from seventh-graders Josie Smith and Celeste Brown, who - under Kelley's guidance and the school's support - designed a way to test the effect of zero gravity on the growth of protein crystals produced by cancer cells.

Students will collect their data after the shuttle lands.

'The crystals, without the force of gravity, would grow bigger,' says Kelley, a 15-year teacher and self-professed science geek who's dreamed of going into space since she was a little girl. 'Instances of microgravity - like an elevator drop, or the 'vomit comet' (a plane ride that simulates zero gravity) - are very short. A sustained shuttle flight is the only chance.'

Thousands of spectators have come to Kennedy Space Center in Florida during the months awaiting the historic launch - the final one for the 25-year-old Endeavour. The shuttle was originally set to launch in February, then in April, then early this month, postponed due to various mechanical issues.

Giffords, who was shot in the head Jan. 8 during a gathering outside an Arizona grocery store, traveled to the space center to watch her husband fly the Endeavour's final mission.