About The SSEP

The Community College of Allegheny County has been selected for the second year to participate in the national Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the Arthur C. Clark Institute for Space Education, in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clark Institute for Space Education, internationally. SSEP gives CCAC students the opportunity to gain real world experience in how scientific research is done. The experience begins with the conceptualization and design of an experiment centered around trying to understand how microgravity would affect a biological, chemical, or physical system of interest, to doing background research and writing proposals to gain access to resources, implementing experimental design, analyzing and drawing conclusion, and presenting that data to their peers. SSEP is truly an out of this world experience. 

For more details about SSEP, visit here.

Mission 17

The race for Mission 17 began on September 1, 2022 and in just over two months, CCAC students were able to prepare 14 proposals. The teams presented those proposals to a panel of reviewers in November 2022 at the Moonshot Museum and awards for the top three projects were announced. The top three proposals were sent to National SSEP Step 2 Review Board where one proposal was chosen to be launched to the International Space Station. The title of the project, led by CCAC students Jason Gomes and Daniel Roth, chosen to be launched is "The Effect(s) of Microgravity on the Dormant State of Cancer Cells." The mission 17 experiment was launched on November 9, 2023.



Mission 17 Winning Project & Finalists

Title: The effect(s) of microgravity on the dormant state of cancer cells

Co-Principal Investigators: Jason Gomes, Daniel Roth

Teacher Facilitator: Francis Cartieri

Proposal Summary: Despite our increasing success in the early detection and removal of primary cancers, most cancer mortality occurs after periods of remission, during which cancer cells may "hide" from immune and therapeutic detection by entering a period of dormancy. The microenvironmental causes of this period of dormancy, which can last for days, months, or years, are unknown. Also unknown are the physical and chemical signals that trigger re-activation of cancer cell division, eventually leading to tumor formation, metastasis, and death. The few studies that do exist indicate that abnormal levels of certain factors (such as inflammatory, growth, and cell adherence signals) are associated with cancer cell dormancy and proliferation. Disturbingly, several of these factors are co-associated with exposure to microgravity. If exposure to microgravity effects cycles of cancer cell proliferation and/or dormancy, this may impose challenging limitations for future space travel and its long-term consequences. Most directly, microgravity exposure could accelerate cancer formation in spacefarers whose bodies harbor dormant cancer cells. Our team proposes to analyze the effects of a microgravity environment on cultured cancer cell lines from the model organism Xenopus laevis (African clawed frog). Specifically, relative levels of gene expression for dormancy-associated proteins will be compared between microgravity-exposed cancer cells, and cancer cells not exposed to microgravity. Additionally, cell morphology, proliferation, and intercellular behavior will be assessed in all groups. This study will directly aid in our understanding of microgravity's impact on cancer dormancy and activation, while improving our limited understanding of the phenomenon of cancer dormancy more broadly.

Learn more about this winning project

Title: The Influence of Microgravity on the Biodegradation of a 3D Printed, Algae Infused, PLA Model

Co-Principal Investigators: Cole Gilbert, Patrick Terry

Collaborator: Hunter Sasse

Teacher Facilitators: Patricia Donehue and Anne Duffy


Title: Influence of Microgravity on Algorithmic Growth of Physarum Polycephalum

Principal Investigator: Yasseen Sabil

Co-Investigators: Isaac Brennan, Santiago Castro, Yu-Chieh Chao, Basem Majed, Jared Mott

Teacher Facilitators: J. David Kokales and Emily Marshman


"Our proposal was unique. Instead of limiting participation to students in STEM programs, we argued that community college students enrolled in a variety of programs can draw on their life experiences to propose unique experiments that will broaden access to spaceflight"

Mission 18

Mission 18 began on September 1, 2023 with seven teams from multiple disciplines across CCAC preparing proposals. The teams presented to a panel of science and space technology experts including NASA astronaut and Pittsburgh native Warren "Woody" Hoburg on November 7, 2023. The top three proposals were sent to the National SSEP Step 2 Review Board where one proposal was chosen to be launched to the International Space Station. The title of the project, led by CCAC students Maya Burns, Faith Dunn, and Connor McDonagh, chosen to be launched is "The Effect of Microgravity on the Enzymatic Degradation of Polyurethane by Penicillium chrysogenum." The Mission 18 experiment is tentatively scheduled for launch in September of 2024.



Mission 18 Winning Project & Finalists

Title: The Effect of Microgravity on the Enzymatic Degradation of Polyurethane by Penicillium chrysogenum 

Co-Principal Investigators: Maya Burns, Faith Dunn

Collaborator: Connor McDonagh

Teacher Facilitator: Patricia Donehue, Anne Duffy

Every year, around 360 million tons of the common industrial and consumer use of the plastic, polyurethane (PUR), is produced; 80% will be reduced to pollution. Landfills hold a tremendous amount of plastic waste, and pollute both land and water; some plastics are even incinerated and contribute to air pollution. The scientific community has seen an increased interest in attending to plastic pollution through several avenues, including the reduction of already existing plastic pollution that, without intervention, is likely to remain indefinitely. Several organisms have been found to be capable of reducing the plastic polyurethane into smaller, recyclable chemical compounds. This experiment will test how microgravity affects the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum's biodegredative enzymes ability to degrade a sample of polyester-polyurethane. This information can be used to facilitate the transition to circular production/waste economies, both on Earth and in space exploration endeavors.

Title: Microgravity-induced effects on the behavior and morphology of moon jellyfish and their epigenetic inheritance

Co-Principle Investigators: Bailey Krimm, Grace Lowe, Sara Turner

Teacher Facilitator: Francis Cartieri

Proposal Summary: Similar to the human ear, moon jellyfish have a series of hairs in the undercarriage of their bell called gravireceptors that regulate proprioception and kinesthesia. As part of the groundbreaking Spacelab Life Sciences 1 Experiment in 1991, moon jellyfish that were grown from polyps exposed to microgravity showed signs of vertigo due to irregular pulsations of their gravireceptors reaching full term. Since then, many advancements have been made in both the genetic community as well as space research and biological testing capabilities. In the proposed investigation, four male and four female moon jellyfish polyps will be sent into microgravity and brought back to be grown alongside a control group of nonexposed polyps living in mirrored conditions. Their path tracing, stride length, jet propulsion, as well as simple qualitative observation of behavior will be measured to assess any effect on the function of gravireceptors. In order to push this experiment further for an epigenetic purpose, the jellyfish will be encouraged to breed, and any possible epigenetic effects on the F1 generation will be tested. The methylation levels of the F1 generation will also be tested, as this is the most effective way to test the epigenetic effects on an organism. The results of this research project will give the scientific community a better theoretical understanding of the frontal and epigenetic effects of space travel on humans, as well as other organisms.


Title: Design and testing of a novel multi-axis microgravity simulator vs the real thing: a test case using the black mold K. chersonesos

Co-Principle Investigators: Ajani Adegbindin, Matt Koepfer, Mamadou N'diaye, Anene Otubelu, Aaron Stevens

Teacher Facilitator: Francis Cartieri

Proposal Summary: Microgravity is an important factor influencing microbial life in space environments, a condition in which the gravity level is almost zero but not neutralized. Due to the technological and logistical hurdles linked to studies of microgravity in space, different methods have been developed to simulate microgravity and analyze microbial responses. Hence, studying the reaction of black fungi to microgravity holds potential for the elucidation of the molecular basis of tolerance in extremotolerant and extremophilic fungi, and can also contribute to unearthing the biological uniqueness of these species and their adaptability to space conditions. Unfortunately, black fungi have only been studied under simulated microgravity. There are numerous constraints and issues with existing microgravity simulators (i.e. clinostats), most importantly, they are cost-prohibitive. We propose to design and build a 3-axis clinostat that meets or exceeds the standards of existing 2-axis clinostats, and to test our design by comparing the simulated results of black fungi grown on our clinostat with samples of black fungi grown on the ISS and a ground control under normal gravity conditions. A secondary goal of our project is to provide a testing platform for future SSEP experiments, be they at CCAC or other institutions. A major issue facing many projects is how to assess the likelihood that microgravity will affect a given organic material or process. We aim to prototype and test a low cost, open source microgravity simulator for use in preliminary feasibility studies for future SSEP missions.


"There is no better way to learn how science works than to participate in it. Our students rose to the challenge, and I'm continually impressed at the results."



Mission 17 Patch Competition

Concurrently with the microgravity experiment competition, CCAC hosted a Mission Patch design competition, inviting students from around Allegheny County to design Mission Patches that would be sent to the ISS alongside the experiments. A panel of judges that included the local experts and the Mission 17 winning team judged over 200 entries and chose two mission patches. Patch 1 was designed by Joey Clark, a junior at Montour High School and a 2nd year Graphic Arts & Production Technology student at Parkway West CTC, and Patch 2 was designed by Angelina Kinest, a junior at Moon Area High School and a 3rd year Graphic Arts & Production Technology student at Parkway West CTC.

Mission 18 Patch Competition

Please check back for details regarding CCAC's Mission 18 Patch Competition.

"We are proud of our SSEP students, and we were honored to be chosen to participate in this prestigious program. There is a profound impact to supporting and fostering students at two-year colleges in earth and space science disciplines. Because community colleges attract a large proportion of students from underrepresented groups, we can not only create pathways for more students to enter the workforce or transfer to four-year schools, we can be a great resource to introduce students to new and emerging career opportunities, as well as help build diversity in the earth and space science professional workforces"



For More Information Contact

Justin Staar

Patricia Donehue

Anne Duffy




The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program [or SSEP] is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with NanoRacks LLC, which is working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.