South East Wales

Water fleas launched into space for Tim Peake experiment

Maj Tim Peake with the Welsh flag

Water fleas will be launched to the International Space Station on Friday as part of an experiment conceived by Welsh school pupils.

The crustaceans will be on their way to British astronaut Maj Tim Peake following a launch scheduled from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 21:43 BST.

Maj Peake will see how they reproduce in space and whether they can survive.

Six youngsters from Rhondda Cynon Taff came up with the idea to win Mission Discovery 2013.

This is a project which allows secondary school students to carry out biomedical research with NASA astronauts and rocket scientists.

Astronaut Mike Foale - the first Briton to perform a space walk - worked on the project with Liam Collins-Jones, Rhiannydd Thomas, Sion Phillips and Trystan Gruffydd from Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg in Church Village, Georgia Bailey from Tonyrefail School and Ieuan Williams from Aberdare High School.

Image copyright ISSET
Image caption The winning team from Rhondda Cynon Taff schools, with astronaut and space shuttle Commander Ken Ham

The water fleas, or Daphnia, have been taken from a pond at the University of Birmingham and experts helped with the more technical aspects of the challenge.

The idea is if they can survive in space, their complex genetic systems will open the doors to research there.

Chris Barber, director of the International Space School Educational Trust, said: "Mission Discovery gives ordinary young people the chance to do something extraordinary.

"We are incredibly pleased to be enabling such amazing opportunities for school students in south Wales."

Two experiments have already been sent to the ISS and the water fleas are among five on board the rocket being launched.

The water fleas were originally due to be sent in June last year, but ISSET said the explosion of three separate US rockets delayed the human space programme.

Five facts about water fleas

  • Their bodies are transparent, so their heart beat and blood flow can be seen externally
  • They can be found in almost any nutrient-rich body of water, with about 80 species in the UK alone
  • They are most likely called fleas because they move through the water in a hopping motion
  • When they reproduce, eggs develop without undergoing fertilization
  • Larger species are only 5mm across

Source: Microscopic-uk.org.uk

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