Student Spaceflight Experiments Program

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), launched June 2010 by the U.S. National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC, is a remarkable Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiative that gives typically 300 to 1,000 students across a community the ability to design and propose real experiments to fly in low Earth orbit, first aboard the final flights of the Space Shuttle, and then on the International Space Station (ISS).

Starting with Mission 2 to ISS, SSEP ‘s fourth flight opportunity, the program is now available for participation by international communities in: European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan, with participation through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

SSEP is about a commitment to student ownership in exploration, to science as journey, and to the joys of learning. For school systems—even individual schools—it provides an opportunity to implement a systemic, high caliber, and historic STEM education program tailored to community need.

SSEP is about immersing and engaging students and their teachers in real science—on the high frontier—so that students are given the chance to be scientists—and experience science firsthand.

Most of the links in the program summary below are to the 1) SSEP main website that provides an overview of the program, how to participate, and all resources in support of program operations, and 2) the separate SSEP Community Network Hubsite that provides an overview of the participating communities, the scope of the program at the local level, the experiments flown, and the over 140 partner institutions.

Each community participating in SSEP conducts a local Flight Experiment Design Competition with student teams vying for an experiment slot reserved just for their community in a real research mini-laboratory scheduled to fly in low Earth orbit. The design competition—from program start, to experiment design, to submission of proposals by student teams—runs a minimum of 8 weeks. Students can design experiments in diverse fields, including: seed germination, crystal growth, physiology of microorganisms and life cycles (e.g. bacteria), cell biology and growth, food studies, and studies of micro-aquatic life. Content resources for teachers and students support foundational instruction on science in microgravity and experimental design. A suite of SSEP program elements—the Community Program—leverages the flight experiment design competition to engage the entire community, embracing the Center’s Learning Community Model for STEM education, and allows the experience to be celebrated with national, even global audiences.

“This whole thing is so unbelievable. We are doing real science research that really matters. What we design will really fly in space aboard the very last space shuttle mission. This could be a life-changer for me. It is something that I will someday tell my grandkids about. How cool!”
—Isaac Jepsen, Senior, Ridge View High School, Galva-Holstein, Iowa

More Testimonials


Key Program Objectives:
• Immerse students in real science, including the design of real experiments constrained by the operation of a microgravity mini-laboratory and flight operations to and from Low Earth Orbit; submission of formal proposals by student teams; formal selection of flight experiments through a 2-step proposal review process; a formal NASA flight safety review for the selected flight experiments; and a research conference at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, DC,  for reporting of experiment results.

• Provide a model for a true STEM education program that embraces student ownership in learning, and broad interdisciplinary connections.

• Provide an authentic view of science that has the ability to change perceptions about the nature of science for students and the public; and the nature of science education for teachers.

• Use the excitement of real science on the high frontier to engage entire communities of students, teachers, and families.

Program Highlights:
• As a result of the first three SSEP flight opportunities—on the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis (STS-134 and STS-135), and Mission 1 to ISS—33 communities joined the program, providing 71,900 grade 5-14 students, across 193 schools, the opportunity to design and propose real spaceflight experiments.

• Through SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, the two completed flight opportunities to date, 1,027 student team proposals were received, and 27 experiments have flown—one for each community. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for the final flight of Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) and Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) … and be amazed.

NEW OPPORTUNITY ANNOUNCED NOVEMBER 14, 2011: The fourth flight announcement of opportunity—for SSEP Mission 2 to ISS—provides for an experiment design competition March through May 2012, and ferry flights to ISS in September/October 2012. Mission 2 to ISS is open to school districts and schools across the U.S. (grades 5-12); 2-year community colleges and 4-year colleges across the U.S.; communities in the U.S. led by informal education or out-of-school organizations; and international communities in European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan, through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education—the new international arm of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

Other Student Spaceflight Experiments Program pages of interest:
SSEP 3-Page Overview PDF
Video Clip Overview of the SSEP
SSEP Participating Communities
Student Experiments Selected for Flight
SSEP In the News
Program Impact from Teachers, Students, and Community Leaders
Mission Patches Flying with Flight Experiments
SSEP National Blog for complete program news
SSEP Conference, Team from Zachary, LA, National Air and Space Museum

Important Points for SSEP International Participation:
• All SSEP website content and documents will only be made available in English.

• The Clarke Institute will require that each international SSEP team have a liaison to the Institute that speaks and writes fluent English.

• All communications with the Institute, including submission of documentation (experiment proposals, questions, etc.), be in English. We understand that student teams in non-English speaking nations may not be capable of participating in SSSEP without an English fluent liaison. The Institute will try and assist in finding a liaison for interested communities, though embassies in the U.S. and through relevant international organizations such as Academies of Science.

How to Participate:
Carefully read the SSEP Home Page and contact the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.


SSEP is undertaken by the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education in partnership with NanoRacks LLC. This on-orbit, real research opportunity for students is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.