Stephanie designs vitamin D level test for ISS astronauts

Meet Stephanie Warhurst, 15, a Year 10 student at Broken Hill High School.

She is working hard in between busy school demands to crack the answer to an all-important question: “How can astronauts on the International Space Station manage their vitamin D levels?”

ISS astronauts are shielded in space from UV radiation. Remember, they are usually in orbit for six months. Little or no sun exposure puts astronauts at risk of having a vitamin D deficiency. This means increased risks of musculoskeletal conditions – bone and muscle pain and weak or fragile bones – and other conditions like cancers and heart disease.

How did Stephanie get into this predicament?

Firstly, she was a successful applicant to attend the United Space School in Houston, Texas. She was one of 50 young persons aged 15 to 18 from all continents on Earth who attended the two-week school in July/August 2014. She had to complete a number of assignments before the space school, including the design of a practical ISS space experiment.

Next, when at the space school, she was one of four persons selected, from the group of 50, to continue working on her experiment so that it would be capable of being conducted by ISS astronauts.

She was surprised to be selected for this special mission and now she needs to perfect her experiment design. There are tough rules about what is allowable in space, so she is modifying her vitamin D testing methodology to make it astronaut-friendly and comply with all the rules.

Good luck Stephanie!  We hope you make the February, 2015 deadline.

By the way, if you want to know what Stephanie specifically did in space school, she participated in an activity that had to plan a mission to Mars. The group of 50 was put into five different groups and each team had to plan a component of the mission. Stephanie was in the Mars transit team, responsible for the 7 to 8 month spaceflight. Other groups focused on mission control, landing, habitation and exploration.

Their work was peer reviewed by industry specialists – the people already dealing with these real-life challenges. So what did she actually learn at space school? Stephanie said: “Planning a space mission is really hard and there is a lot to consider.”