Welcome Home Astronauts and Goldfish Embryos!

Atlantis has landed safely at Kennedy Space Center, and we will soon be reunited with our space-fish!  Depending on when the samples are unloaded from the shuttle, we should have the embryos in hand either tomorrow or Saturday.  Dr. Mark Westneat of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History has graciously offered to let us use his microscope to observe our samples.  His microscope take pictures, so we will be able to show our results to the world soon!

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We Have Liftoff!

Our eggs are in SPACE!!  We had a fantastic time at the launch yesterday.

The sky cleared up just in time.  It was breathtaking to watch.  In case you missed it, here is a video from NASA Television.  STS-135: Final Launch of Atlantis

I tried to videotape it myself, but was too caught up in the moment to point the camera straight.  Plus, I really enjoyed watching it with my own eyes.

After the launch, we headed out with Joe from Blackwater Creek Koi Farm to visit a really cool organic, hydroponic, rooftop farm.

Bibb lettuce grows atop tanks of tilapia. The dirty water from the tank is pumped up to the lettuce, which uses the nutrients and filters the water, which is then pumped back into the fish tank.

Next, we drove up to Joe’s koi farm for a tour and to collect the control samples.  The farm is amazing!  There are hundreds of thousands of fish, of all different varieties, colors, and sizes.  We learned the entire process of raising the fish, from spawning, to hatching, to growing, to selling, and to shipping.

Blackwater Creek Koi Farm Office

Blackwater Creek Koi Farm Office

Baby fish

Adult Fish

We collect the control sample from the very same batch of eggs that Joe used to collect the sample we sent to space.  The fish lay the eggs in this mat, which reminds them of grass. The mat protects the eggs so that the other fish don’t eat them.

The fish eggs are embedded in the mat.

Joe’s farm was tons of fun!  In addition to the fish, he has goats, peacocks, kittens, and a dog.  There was even a small alligator in one of the ponds when we were there!

After our tour, we went to dinner with Joe and his family.  They treated us to some delicious Florida seafood, as well as a local delicacy, deep fried alligator tail.  It was delicious!

That capped off our amazing launch day.  We finally got back to the hotel at around 11:00 pm, exhausted but energized by this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Iffy Weather

We are down in beautiful Florida for the launch!  Everything has gone perfectly so far…except the weather. As of this morning, there was a 70% chance of a weather-related launch delay.  Right now we are still a go, but there will be a meeting at NASA at 1:30 am EST to decide whether to fuel up the external tank.  Officials at that meeting could decide to delay.  We’ll see!  Fingers crossed that this storm totally blows over by tomorrow.

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Red, White, & Blue

Joe from Blackwater Creek Koi Farm hand delivered our samples to Kennedy Space Center this morning.  Thanks, Joe!

We were so excited to learn that the fish Joe used for our eggs are a special breed of goldfish that are red, white, and blue in color.  Here is a picture:

Aren’t they beautiful??  And they have no idea that their little babies are about to be a part of American history!

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Sunrise on Atlantis

A beautiful picture from NASA’s website.

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Our Fishy Problem is Solved!

We have been having a very hard time fertilizing Atlantis’ eggs.  One big problem is the possibility that our male fish, Endeavour, is actually a female.  It is very hard to tell.  We have attempted to harvest milt from Endeavour with no success, but that could also mean he just isn’t mature enough yet.

Last week I put feelers out for another male goldfish, this time stipulating that the fish should be mature and ready to mate.  The kids found in their research that a mature male goldfish will have white spots on his face called breeding tubercles, so we set out to find one with spots.

I posted an ad on Craigslist, and within a few days, we got a response from a fish owner in nearby Wheaton, Illinois.  She had a pair of goldfish who had previously spawned together, and said we could take them for our experiment.

After getting the new fish back to the lab, we tried to harvest eggs and milt.  We got a few eggs from the female fish, by very gently applying pressure near her vent.  Using the same technique, we tried to harvest milt from the male.  We were very surprised when, instead of seeing milt come out, we got more eggs!  That’s right, our two new fish are both female!

So we were back to square one.  We called and e-mailed around to find a breeder who can provide us with a male fish.  Finally an aquarium expert from the Shedd Aquarium offered to help us find a breeder.  Several more phone calls led us to the fish store Koi to the World, whose in turn referred us to Blackwater Creek Koi Farm, a fish breeder located in Central Florida.  Blackwater Creek’s owner, Joe Pawlak, listened patiently to our dilemma and offered several solutions.  1) He can send us a male fish, 2) He can send us a kit for injecting hormones into the fish to induce spawning, or 3) He can send us goldfish eggs, already fertilized.

We think the solution will be a combination of these things.  If Joe ships the eggs to Chicago and then we ship them to Kennedy Space Center, the eggs will hatch before the launch.  To solve this problem, Joe has generously offered to hand deliver our fertilized eggs to Kennedy Space Center.  Isn’t that amazing?  Thank you Joe!!!  So, our plan is for Joe to deliver the eggs to Cape Canaveral on July 5th, and then we will travel to Blackwater Creek Koi Farm on July 6th or 7th to see the farm and collect fertilized eggs for our control experiment.  Since we would also like to experience successfully fertilizing the eggs ourselves, we are considering using Joe’s hormone kit in the classroom.

So…YAY!  Thank you to everyone at Shedd, Koi to the World, and Blackwater Creek for helping us out!





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Mission’s end

Here is a nice editorial about the end of the space shuttle program, from the Chicago Tribune.

Mission’s end.

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Status Update

We’ve been observing our eggs frequently, and Eric and Eren are getting good at identifying and describing the appearance of goldfish eggs under the microscope.  Also, our project got funded on Donor’s Choose!  So we are expecting a shipment of lab equipment very soon.  On Monday we will be putting some eggs into the MDA to run a longer length simulation, to match the length of the 12 day space mission.

Eric observes goldfish eggs under the microscope.

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Check out our Project on Donors Choose!

We have created a project on Donors Choose to try and obtain the rest of the equipment we will need for this experiment.  Check it out here, and please donate if you can!

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Introducing our Superstar Goldfish: Atlantis and Endeavour

We at the Skinner West Science Department have always been loyal PetSmart customers, shopping at our local store (Canal and Roosevelt, for Chicagoans!) every week for live crickets to feed our firebelly toads and for bedding and food for our two guinea pigs.

After hearing about our participation in SSEP, PetSmart has generously donated all of our goldfish supplies!

Thank you, PetSmart, especially Store Manager Zig Skrzypcak and Fish Department Manager Glen Robinson.  We are so proud to have you on board our historic mission!

Without further ado, please meet Atlantis and Endeavour, our new fancy goldfish.  The goldfish were named on Friday by our student team, in honor of the two space shuttles that have carried SSEP experiments to space.

Atlantis (female) is the one with the black tail.  Endeavour (male, we *HOPE*!) is almost all orange.  Welcome to the Skinner West and SSEP family, Atlantis and Endeavour!

Atlantis (female) and Endeavour (male), the goldfish who will make history!


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