Here's how you can launch an experiment

Would you like to send an experiment on the space shuttle? NASA's Space Experiment Module (SEM) system is designed especially to help students plan and conduct research projects that ride on the shuttle.

Its Web site contains information about the requirements for a project and how to have it included on a flight: sspp.gsfc.nasa.gov/sem/home.html

The site also includes software you can download to help design your experiment and meet NASA's requirements. SEM project members at Goddard Space Flight Center can answer questions and help you plan and build your project.

How does NASA decide which experiments get to go? Projects must meet safety and schedule requirements. The more students that participate, the better. NASA also weighs how much of a project is planned and completed by the students themselves. Any school that can meet the requirements has a chance to be included.

Dr. Jan Sojka of Utah State University has helped students put experiments on many space-shuttle flights. He knows there are some things you cannot do:

You can't include any hazardous materials or explosives, he says. NASA is very careful to make sure nothing endangers the astronauts.

You can't send a fragile project. Design it so that nothing will break loose during liftoff. Heavy vibrations and G-forces put a lot of stress on the experiment canisters.

Every project must be carefully described on paper and its design approved before it can be included in the SEM system. The process can take months or even a year, but some projects have also been put together in a month or two. It depends on how complex the experiment is and how much space is available on the shuttle.

If you had the opportunity, what would you send into space? With the SEM system, you may actually get to!

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