Students with ants-in-space project carry on as tribute

Posted: Wednesday, February 05, 2003

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Four high school students plan to finish their ants-in-space experiment started aboard Columbia, seeking to honor the shuttle's seven fallen astronauts and their commitment to scientific discovery.

''Just because the mission fails doesn't mean your dreams have to fail,'' Rachel Poppe, one of the students, said Monday.

''Sometimes it can be dangerous searching for answers. But you can't stop searching,'' the Fowler High School senior said. ''We will finish our work in dedication to the crew.''

Classmate Abby Golash, also a senior, agreed. ''We feel it would be dishonoring the astronauts, who risked their lives to go into space to do the science. We couldn't stop it now.''

Poppe, Golash, fellow senior Brad Miller and sophomore Liban Muhamed waited more than three years to see their ant farm fly into space.

They wanted to learn whether the ants would tunnel any differently in minimal gravity, said Charlotte Archabald, a chemistry teacher who helped organize the project.

Because of their involvement in the Columbia mission, the students enjoyed behind-the-scene tours of NASA facilities and VIP seating at Cape Cana-veral for the shuttle's launch on Jan. 16. The biggest impression, though, was made by the astronauts and scientists they met.

They never got to meet the Columbia crew. Still, when the shuttle broke into pieces over Texas minutes before it was to land Saturday, killing all seven crew members, the tragedy hit the students as a personal loss.

''When I heard the news, I was in hysterics. I couldn't stop crying. I was a mess,'' Poppe said.

''They took care of our project. They released the ants for us. They spent so much time learning all about our project.''

To design an experiment that would meet NASA standards and have a good chance at success, the students at Fowler worked with world-class scientists, researchers and engineers.

''We felt part of the space program,'' Miller said. ''We all felt like a little piece of us was gone when the shuttle disappeared.''

The Fowler students were among students from nine states and eight countries who had science experiments aboard Colu-mbia.

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