Orion’s Quest (OQ) is an internet based, education program for upper elementary, middle and high school students. OQ employs current NASA research to reach and inspire “the next generation of explorers.”

  • World Class Scientists
    World Class Scientists

    OQ helps bring together today's youth with scientists from world leading aerospace organizations conducting research onboard the International Space Station.

  • Integration of science, technology, engineering and math
    Integration of science, technology, engineering and math

    The OQ programs consist of dynamic hands-on missions designed to stimulate student interest in the STEM disciplines.

  • Authentic Research Experience
    Authentic Research Experience

    OQ students participate in real science and real learning as they support NASA scientists’ space-based research.

Missions

STEM On Station

Managing Microbes in Space

Stem On Station

On August 26, 2016 a SpaceX Dragon capsule bringing back cargo and experiment payloads from the International Space Station splashed down off the coast of California. Included in that payload was an experiment designed to study the effects of microgravity on living heart cells.

This particular study is important because future exploration of the moon, asteroids or Mars will require long periods of space travel, which creates increased risk of health problems such as atrophy of the heart muscle. In addition, because conditions in space mirror the effects of aging on Earth, the finding of this research could not only help astronauts but also advance the study of heart disease and the development of drugs and cell replacement therapy here on Earth.

In this experiment Principle Investigators (PI’s) Dr. Joseph Wu of Stanford University and Dr. Peter Lee of The Ohio State University use human heart cells derived from non-embryonic stem cells to look for changes in things like beat rate, morphology and gene expression while in the microgravity environment of space.

Now Orion’s Quest (OQ) is offering teachers the opportunity to get their students directly involved in this major new research by joining the “Stem On Station” (SOS) OQ mission. Participating teachers will be provided with curriculum materials, suggestions for classrooms activities and access for students to analyze actual video of the heart cells from both the space-based and ground-based experiments. Student data will be forwarded to the PI’s for possible inclusion in their databases.

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MISSION 01

Managing Microbes in Space

Managing Microbes In Space

Get students involved in a journey of discovery as they support the work of NASA scientists looking for ways to protect astronauts in space.

This experiment is a first of a kind study of the interactions of germs and host organisms in real time while in microgravity. By analyzing video downlinked from an experiment onboard the International Space Station and submitting their data to the Principle Investigator Dr. Cheryl Nickerson of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, students will be engaged in real space-based research and work in support of NASA’s Human Space Exploration program.

Recommended for Middle and High School students

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Plant Growth in Space

MISSION 02

Plant Growth in Space

Orion’s Quest virtual mission “Plant Growth in Space” represents a decade of working with NASA scientists doing research in space.

This tenth mission uses the plant species Brassica rapa or Wisconsin Fast Plants and is designed to shed light on the question, “How do plants react to microgravity in their early growth stages”. As humans continue to expand the duration of space flights and the distance travelled from Earth the need for sustainability in space becomes essential.

This investigation is designed to have students discover how the phototropic and gravitropic responses of plants grown in a space-based experiment onboard the International Space Station compare with those of plants grown in an earth-based control experiment.

Students will participate in 4 activities analyzing FLIGHT and GROUND photos. Data collected in these activities will allow students to draw their own conclusions about the impact of microgravity on early plant growth and student data will be submitted to the Principle Investigator (PI) for the mission for possible inclusion in their databases.

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MISSION 03

Spiders in Space

Spiders in Space

Orion’s Quest “Spiders in Space” virtual mission supports the research of NASA scientists and piggybacks on the OQ “Fruit Flies in Space” mission.

This space-based research project gathers data about the interaction and movements of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the orb weaving spider Nephila clavipes living in the same habitat while onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The investigation focuses on the spiders and is designed to study the differences between webs spun in the space-based experiment and the earth-based control experiment. Students will be asked to do a variety of activities including measurement of the growth of the spider and observing and recording the web spinning process in microgravity.

Students will participate in the activities by analyzing and comparing photos and video from both the space-based and earth-based investigations via the Orion’s Quest website. Student data will be submitted to the Principle Investigator (PI) for the mission.

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MISSION 04

Fruit Flies in Space

Fruit Flies in Space

This virtual mission “Fruit Flies in Space” was part of the payload on NASA’s STS 134 flight. It is a biology based mission which focuses on the Fruit Fly Drosophila melanogaster and uses actual photographs, video and data downlinked from the International Space Station.

The mission is designed to have students support the work of NASA scientist Dr. Sharmila Bhattacharya, Head of the Biomodel Performance and Behavior Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center, as she studies the effects of microgravity on the development, behavior and movement of this organism.

By studying the behaviors of the Fruit Fly and other model organisms in microgravity scientists contribute to the body of knowledge in understanding how organisms adjust to their environment. All organisms use the same basic signaling pathways and good data shows how changes in gravity alter these systems. Behavior changes can then be used to analyze the genetic basis for the change. Because the Fruit Fly genome has genetic similarity with the human genome information gained in studying these simple organisms can then be translated to complex human organisms.

Students will report observations and measurements of the Fruit Fly behaviors by comparing photographic records from the International Space Station and an earth-based comparison study. Student data collected on the OQ web site will then be sent to Dr. Bhattacharya for review and possible inclusion in research databanks.

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MISSION 05

Butterflies in Space

Butterflies in Space

Launched to the International Space Station aboard NASA’s mission STS-129 in November of 2009, this activity focuses on the ability of “Painted Lady Butterflies”, Vanessa cardui to “pupate” in microgravity.

This activity supports the research of the Butterfly Pavilion at Westminster, CO. Students construct a butterfly habitat in the classroom mimicking the structure and conditions of the “in-flight” habitat aboard the International Space Station.

Utilizing the same butterfly larva and food supply being used in both the microgravity and ground control experiments, students follow the larva to pupa stage of the butterfly life cycle. At the teacher’s discretion, students’ access photos of the space and earth-based activities via the Orion’s Quest website and analyze these photos, comparing them with classroom outcomes. Data entered through the online interactive data page will be submitted to the Principle Investigator (PI) for possible inclusion in databases.

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MISSION 06

Silicate Gardens in Space

Silicate Gardens in Space

Orion’s Quest “Silicate Gardens in Space” virtual mission is a chemistry-based research study in support of the work of crystallographers Dr. Julyan Cartwright and Dr. C. Ignacio Sainz Diaz at the Laboratory for the Study of Crystallography in Granada, Spain.

This investigation combines two experiments that were part of the payloads of NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour missions STS-118 and STS-123. Both flights delivered their experiments to the International Space Station (ISS), STS 118 in August 2007 and STS 123 in March 2009.

Silicate Gardens or Chemical Gardens have been studied on earth for many years and now the research continues onboard the International Space Station. Using sodium silicate solution and various metal salts, this research is designed to provide new information on the formation and growth of hollow tubes, the basic structures of silicate gardens, while in a microgravity environment.

Student’s record observations and measurements of silicate tube growth to evaluate one of several variables as they analyze and compare photographic records from the ISS with an earth-based control study. As a part of this ongoing study student data is submitted online and forwarded to Dr. Cartwright and Dr. Diaz for possible inclusion in their databases.

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MISSION 07

Worms in Space

Worms in Space

This high-flying education effort by Orion’s Quest (OQ) features a science investigation that supports of the research of NASA scientist Dr. Catharine Conley and genetic researcher, Dr. Nate Szewczyk.

The study uses the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a free-living (non-parasitic) round worm about 1 mm in length as the model organism for the ongoing research that support NASA’s program in the areas of Human Space Exploration and human genetics. Dubbed “CSI-01” this project allows students to participate in meaningful scientific research on gravity-dependent biological processes.

This nematode experiment sponsored by the Malaysian Space Agency used an automated growth chamber designed and built by BioServe Space Technologies in Boulder, Colorado. Based on Dr. Conley’s research the study provided video, still images and data that were downlinked to Earth from the International Space Station and placed on the OQ website. Using these photographic records participating students observe and analyze C. elegans living in liquid media. The study is designed to provide scientists with data related to the effectiveness of the media and the effects of microgravity on life processes of the C. elegans. Observation of population densities and the tracking the progression of the worms through four growth stages are part of the study and student data is submitted to Dr. Conley and Dr. Szewczyk.

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Start your classroom on an educational journey. Orion’s Quest is an internet delivered program for upper elementary, middle and high school students that seeks to reach the “Next Generation of Explorers”.

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