By Frank Vaisvilas
Reporter for the Green Bay Press Gazette
HAYWARD, Wis. — When the SpaceX Cargo Dragon 2 ship returned to Earth from the International Space Station this week, it carried onboard a very special package for a tribal school in Wisconsin — fish eggs.
A team of eighth-grade students from the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe School in Hayward had sent the rainbow trout eggs to astronauts for experiments in space as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program in partnership with NASA.
It was the first tribal school to participate in the program and only the second school in Wisconsin.
Students Evan Heath, Kane LaRonge and Thomas White will analyze the eggs to determine how they are affected by microgravity.
"It's real science," said Tammy Moncel, science teacher at the school. "They can't look in a textbook to find the answers."
The students will compare the hatching and development of the fish from space to the fish back at their school's lab, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.
"I can't wait to see if fish will grow in space," eighth-grader Thomas said.
If fish can develop in space, it would mean astronauts could have another source of food for protein during long missions. The fish could also be used in aquaponics in space.
"My favorite thing about the experiment is looking at the eggs through the microscope," eighth-grader Kane LaRonge said.
Those eggs are very tiny.
"When we first got the shipment of eggs, we couldn't find them at first," he said.
Moncel had attempted to have the LCO school participate in the program five years ago, but the funding wasn't there.
Later, Dr. Jeff Goldstein, who developed the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program that started in 2010, reached out to Moncel to find a way for the school to participate, especially because it would be the first tribal school to do so.
The $25,000 needed to participate in the program was raised by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, Subaru, LCO Youth and Education Fund, and the LCO Tribal Governing Board.
Once it was known the LCO tribal school could participate, 31 teams grades five to 12 from the school and the tribe's language institute, Waadookodaading, submitted experiment proposals and three of those were selected by a review board at the LCO College.
Those three proposals were submitted to the program's review board at the NASA Goddard Visitor Center in Maryland.
The other two experiments involved the fermentation of milk into cheese in space and the germination of wild rice, or manoomin, in space.
Manoomin is an important part of Ojibwe culture, and Moncel and another teacher who helped facilitate the program, Wendy Fuller, believe that experiment might have been chosen if its purpose had been on Indigenous culture.
But they said fish might have been chosen because it's more widely and readily available and fish also is an important part of Ojibwe culture.
Other students in the school system participated through an art contest to design a mission patch.
The experiment was originally scheduled for last school year, but the pandemic had forced a delay.
Still, the students kept their focus on the experiment over the summer to see it through this year.
"I'm proud of all the kids involved," said Jessica Hutchinson, superintendent of the LCO Ojibwe School. "They stuck it out a year longer. They started it as seventh-graders. Anything that long of a time to stay motivated for a middle school kid is a lot."