Toronto Star

Torontonia­ns vying to soar into space

Canadian agency is looking for two new astronauts

- SAMMY HUDES STAFF REPORTER

Aaron Persad has been waiting a long time for another shot at going to space.

As a master’s student in 2008, Persad applied to be an astronaut through the Canadian Space Agency’s open recruitmen­t campaign. He was unsuccessf­ul and didn’t know when another chance would come to fulfil his lifelong dream.

But now, the 32-year-old is one of more than 400 hopefuls from Toronto who have applied to be one of Canada’s two newest astronauts, the most from any city. Until Aug. 15, the space agency is welcoming applicatio­ns.

More than 3,300 Canadians have already started or completed their applicatio­ns since the agency kicked off its recruitmen­t campaign June 17.

Persad, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Toronto’s engineerin­g department, has dreamed of going to space since he was 7 years old.

“It pushes one to explore the limits of what they can actually do,” Persad, 32, said of being an astronaut.

“It pushes one to explore the limits of what they can actually do.” AARON PERSAD 32-YEAR-OLD IS ONE OF MORE THAN 400 HOPEFULS FROM TORONTO

An astronaut’s diet in space can be quite restrictiv­e, but a group of Ryerson University students are hoping to add a new option to the menu.

Last week, when SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket bound for the Internatio­nal Space Station (ISS), it carried with it a student project that will determine whether oyster mushrooms can grow in space.

The project was designed by three Ryerson undergradu­ates and two Toronto high school students to test whether oyster mushrooms could one day serve as a food source for astronauts.

At home, the students are simultaneo­usly conducting the same experiment, which will serve as a comparison.

“In terms of oyster mushrooms, we chose this species because it’s an edible species with a high amount of fibre and carbohydra­tes but low in fat,” said Preet Kahlon, a fourth-year Ryerson medical physics student. “We knew that if we did something that was resilient like fungus . . . it would be able to serve as a source of food for astronauts.”

The experiment is part of the Student Spacefligh­t Experiment­s Program, which is run by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. It enables students to conduct microgravi­ty experiment­s in space. Ryerson is the first Canadian university to take part.

Nathan Battersby, a fourth-year biology student, brought forth the idea to administra­tion in November 2014. The university received approval to participat­e in March 2015 and held a competitio­n until May of that year to design the project it would send to space.

The competitio­n also served as a mentorship program. Ryerson undergradu­ates competed in groups of about five along with high school students interested in science. Approximat­ely 130 students participat­ed.

Battersby was part of the directing team with faculty members who analyzed the proposals and narrowed them down to the top three, which were sent to the Smithsonia­n Space Museum in Washington to decide a winner.

Judges were looking for experiment­s that were most likely to give accurate results and have real-life applicatio­ns.

“It’s not every day that you get to send something to space, and it’s not like you can do your typical science experiment where you send 30 trials and take an average,” Battersby said. “In this case, there was one experiment that had to work.”

The experiment consists of a tube, less than 10 millilitre­s, divided into three sections. One section contains spores for oyster mushrooms, comparable to the seeds of a plant. Another contains the food source for the mushrooms: cellulose, which gives the mushroom its structure, and a water source to provide moisture.

After a few weeks, astronauts on the ISS will carry out an activation that opens up and combines the two sections, allowing growth to begin.

Two weeks before the experiment returns home, astronauts will activate the third compartmen­t of the tube, containing a fixative to kill the fungus and preserve the project as is, similar to a dissection project in high school.

“Once it comes back, we want to analyze what is the visible difference in growth from the experiment,” Kahlon said. “We’re wondering how much gravity plays a role in the growth.”

The students plan to publish their results, even if no growth occurs. It cost $39,627 to participat­e, which was funded by the provincial government, the faculty of science and president’s office at Ryerson, the Natural Sciences and Engineerin­g Research Council of Canada, Magellan Aerospace and Bombardier.

“We really are focused on science outreach and experienti­al learning,” said Emily Agard, director of science communicat­ion at Ryerson and outreach director of the project. “We’re trying to create a niche for ourselves, we’re trying to establish ourselves and differenti­ate ourselves from what other people are doing.”

“It’s not every day that you get to send something to space, and it’s not like you can do your typical science experiment.” NATHAN BATTERSBY FOURTH-YEAR BIOLOGY STUDENT AND MEMBER OF DIRECTING TEAM

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 ?? LUCAS OLENIUK PHOTOS/TORONTO STAR ?? Team: Gemma Mancuso, left, Kugenthini Tharmakula­sekaram, Modlin Orange, Francis Buguis and Preet Kahlon.
LUCAS OLENIUK PHOTOS/TORONTO STAR Team: Gemma Mancuso, left, Kugenthini Tharmakula­sekaram, Modlin Orange, Francis Buguis and Preet Kahlon.
 ??  ?? A tube containing oyster mushroom spores, cellulose and a water source will be activated and preserved by ISS astronauts to monitor growth.
A tube containing oyster mushroom spores, cellulose and a water source will be activated and preserved by ISS astronauts to monitor growth.

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