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Community : Top Stories Last Updated: Jun 19, 2013 - 9:28:22 AM


DI student earns out of this world honor
By Elizabeth Bush
Jun 19, 2013 - 9:22:44 AM

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Daniel Island resident Alexander Puckhaber, a student at Palmetto Scholars Academy, is congratulated by his science teacher, Kellye Voigt, after learning a scientific experiment he helped create will head to the International Space Station this November.
The sky's the limit for this winning team! Pictured (L to R) are Lt. Michael Becker of SPAWAR, and Palmetto Scholars Academy students Griffin Enslinger and Alexander Puckhaber, of Daniel Island. The team's experiment on microgravity was one of 11 selected from 744 proposals submitted nationally for a chance to fly to an orbiting laboratory at the International Space Station.

Daniel Island resident Alexander Puckhaber is used to reaching for the stars when it comes to academics. But if the top student is feeling a little spacey these days, he has good reason.
The rising 8th grader, who just completed his second year at Palmetto Scholars Academy (PSA), recently learned that an experiment he proposed, along with fellow student Griffin Eslinger, was selected to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) this November. The honor was announced at a special “Reveal” event held at PSA on June 2.  
“I was surprised!” admits Puckhaber, upon hearing the news. “But I think it’s really cool!”
Puckhaber and Eslinger are among some 3,000 students who competed across tahe nation for the chance to launch a scientific experiment into low orbit on a “Space X-3 Mission,” part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). A total of 744 proposals were submitted by student teams in grades 5 through 12 throughout the United States. A review board organized by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) comprised of professional scientists, engineers and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educators studied the experiments and ultimately awarded just under a dozen coveted spots onboard “Mission 4.” Puckhaber’s school was the only one in South Carolina to participate in the competition.
“This is the first time in South Carolina this has been done,” said PSA science and research teacher Kellye Voigt, who led the effort at the school. “It’s huge!”
At PSA, a local charter school that serves academically gifted students, participants formed some 78 teams as part of the project and came up with different experiments involving the effects of microgravity on varying substances. Puckhaber and Eslinger were among three finalist teams selected at PSA by a local board.
“I am not surprised at either one of these two,” added Voigt, who also recognized the contributions made by all PSA student participants. “They are on my robotics team…So when they got together and started working on this…I knew we were going to get some good proposals.”
The two other finalist teams at PSA consisted of Joseph Garvey, also a Daniel Island resident, Gabriel Voigt, Maddy Bessinger, Hunter Black, Delaney Chariker, and Chris Otap. A national review board selected each school community’s winning proposal. The 11 projects making the final cut from across the United States will be transported aboard a NanoRacks rocket to the ISS, where astronauts will conduct the students’ experiments. The proposal created by Puckhaber and Eslinger will explore the structural integrity of iron exposed to a saltwater solution while in orbit.
“We chose iron for our experiment because it rusts quickly and will be easier to examine during a limited time frame,” wrote the students in their summary.  “…Knowing how liquids in microgravity affect the oxidation of metals is important when designing containers for the International Space Station and manned spacecrafts.”
Lt. Michael Becker of the locally-based U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems (SPAWAR) served as a mentor for Puckhaber and Eslinger.  He, and other local professionals participating in the PSA program, met with students several times a week to monitor progress and answer questions.
“It was really a pleasure,” said Becker, who attended the recent award program honoring the finalists. “They were a team. They wanted to learn and listen…I’m not surprised at all (that they won). I knew these guys worked hard and I knew we had a really testable project. It really pushed them to think about what they wanted to learn and they obviously put that into the project.”
“We’re very excited!” added Kasia Puckhaber, Alexander’s mother. “He has aspirations to be either an engineer or a scientist and would love to work for Space-X one day. That’s the dream, pie in the sky!”
Puckhaber’s family hopes to be at the rocket launch this fall from Cape Canaveral, Florida. In the meantime, there are other special events to attend. In July, PSA’s winning research team will travel to Washington, D.C. to present their project to the scientific community at the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute. In addition, all PSA finalists will have an opportunity to attend the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium in October.
Dr. Martha Hale, PSA Principal, is encouraged by the school’s success and can’t wait to see what the future holds for its students.
“It’s incredible!” she said. “…It’s just kind of mushroomed and we’re so excited about it and thrilled that these kids are going to be able to go to Washington and present their work there…I think for our school…this has really helped us take flight!”
In addition to their award-winning participation in the SSEP mission competition, the PSA family also recently learned that the school was selected as a partner school by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).   
“Once we got that endorsement, then we were able to proceed with getting lots more recognition,” added Hale.
“We have so much on the horizon!” said Voigt.
For Puckhaber, who is preparing to send his work off to space, life just got a whole lot more interesting. Now he knows firsthand that what you learn in school really does matter.
“This project is relevant,” he said. “That’s why it’s great. It applies the math and science we learn into a real project!”
As a young student, he has already learned that when it comes to achievements, the sky’s the limit…or, in his case, it may be just the beginning.
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