Mission Discovery

ISSET’s Mission Discovery programme is a great opportunity for ordinary students to do something extraordinary.

Secondary school students from ages 14 - 18 (Year groups 9 - 13) carry out scientific research with NASA Astronauts, rocket scientists and NASA personnel for a week. Mission Discovery works off a first-come first-serve basis. There is no selection process, giving everyone equal opportunity to get involved.

In teams, students will propose an idea for their own scientific experiment; the best idea will be launched into space and carried out by Astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

With help from brilliant NASA role models, Astronauts, Astronaut trainers, NASA personnel, scientists and engineers; students will learn about space and STEM through a variety of exhilarating hands-on activities, based on themes such as:

  • NASA leadership and team building
  • How space exploration benefits life on Earth
  • Experiencing the environment of space
  • Looking at different kinds of experiment and what makes them great
  • How you succeed in your dreams and ambitions

Find a Mission Discovery Near You

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Portsmouth University

17th - 21st July, 2017

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Sydney, Australia

April, 2017

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King's College, London

10th - 14th July, 2017

The Team

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Mike Foale

Former NASA Astronaut & ISS Commander

Mission Discoveries VIP astronaut, Mike Foale heads up the Kings College London team.

Mike is the most experienced British born astronaut in the history of human space travel having flown on 6 Space Shuttle missions, a Soyuz and commanded the International Space Stations.

He was the first Briton to perform a spacewalk, during which he saved the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Steve Swanson

Current NASA Astronaut

Steve Swanson is a NASA astronaut and an engineer.

Swanson has flown on two Space Shuttle flights, STS-117 and STS-119, and Expedition 39 to the ISS aboard the Soyuz.

Steve has also served as a CAPCOM for ISS and Space Shuttle missions. He has logged 643 hours in space and completed four spacewalks totalling 26 hours and 14 minutes.

Steve is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal.

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Scott Kelly

NASA Astronaut & ISS Commander

Former International Space Station Commander and veteran of 5 space missions, recipient of 6 NASA medals. Embarking on a 12 month mission to the ISS in 2015. Identical twin of retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

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Ken Ham

Former NASA Astronaut & Space Shuttle Commander

Ken was the commander of the Space Shuttle Atlantis Mission STS-132 to the International Space Station in May 2010. Additionally Ken's Space experience includes being the Pilot of Space Shuttle Mission STS-124. Ken's Background is as a naval aviator and test pilot.

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Stephen G. Bowen

Former NASA Astronaut

Steve Bowen is a NASA Astronaut with experience of carrying out 3 Space Shuttle missions to the International Space Station.

His space missions involve him travelling almost 17 million miles in space and having completed 638 orbits of the earth. In his space missions Steve carried out 7 space walks, NASA’s most hazardous mission activity.

He is a US Navy Captain and former submariner. He has achieved BSc and MA in Engineering and received numerous awards from the US Navy and NASA.

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Jean-Jacques Favier

Former Astronaut

Jean-Jacques Favier is a French engineer and a former CNES astronaut who flew aboard the STS-78 NASA Space Shuttle mission. Favier was due to fly aboard the Columbia mission in 2003, but later signed out of the mission. Favier spent a total of 16d 21h 48m in space.

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Nicole Stott

Former NASA Astronaut

Nicole has completed two NASA space missions. Her first long-duration flight was to the International Space Station, where she spent 91 days in space and enjoyed her first spacewalk lasting 6 hours. While aboard the ISS she helped with vital research and installed new treadmill and maintenance systems.

She returned to space in 2011 on the penultimate space shuttle flight with STS 133 as a Flight Engineer. Throughout her fantastic career she has collected a range of prestigious NASA awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal and Exceptional Achievement Medal, amongst many more.

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Yi So-yeon

Former Astronaut

Yi So-yeon is a scientist who became the first Korean to fly in space, spending a total of 10 days 21 hours over the course of the Soyuz TMA-12 and Soyuz TMA-11 missions.

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Mike McCulley

Former NASA Astronaut

Michael James McCulley is a retired Captain in the United States Navy, a former NASA astronaut and was the first submariner in space. Mike was the pilot on mission STS-34 and has spent a total of 4d 23h 39m in space.

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Jerry L. Ross

Former NASA Astronaut

Jerry is a veteran of seven Space Shuttle missions, including the first mission to assemble the International Space Station. This makes him the joint record-holder for most spaceflights ever. Throughout his career, Ross received 15 NASA medals and was awarded the American Astronautical Society's Victor A. Prather Award for his numerous spacewalking achievements. In February 2014 it was announced that Jerry will be inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

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Ken Bowersox

Former NASA astronaut.

Ken is a NASA Astronaut with experience of five Space Shuttle Missions, two as Commander and a long duration space mission as the Commander of the International Space Station.

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Julie Keeble

Lecturer of Pharmacology

Julie is a lecturer in Pharmacology in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science at King's College London.

Julie works closely with Mission Discoveries winning teams to produce the final experiment, fit to be launched into space.

Her research focuses on the role of sensory nerves in pain, inflammation and thermoregulation.

Julie is a module organiser for the MSc Integrative Physiology & Pharmacology for Research at King's.

She is also a member of the British Pharmacological Society and a BBSRC Schools Regional Champion.

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Steve Harridge

Professor of Human & Applied Physiology

Steve is Professor of Human & Applied Physiology and Director of the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences, at King's College London.

His research interest is human skeletal muscle function and plasticity, particularly with regard to ageing.

Steve is also Director of the MSc in Human & Applied Physiology and Co-Director of the MSc in Aviation Medicine.

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James Clarke

Lecturer of Applied & Human Physiology

James holds a Lectureship in Applied & Human Physiology (Aerospace Physiology) at King's College London.

He has worked in the Cardiovascular Division at King's College London and has been awarded a British Heart Foundation Research Fellowship to carry out work on cardio-protection.

James is a member of the International Society for Heart Research(ISHR), The British Cardiac Society, The British Society for Cardiovascular Research and the Physiological Society.

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David Green

Lecturer of Human & Aerospace Physiology

David's a Lecturer of Human & Aero-space Physiology and is the coordinator of the Aero-space & Extreme Environment Adaptation Group within the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King's College London.

His work is in the physiological responses and adaptation that occur in times of change. A particular interest of his is in the adaptations seen during exposure to extreme and hostile environments.

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Sarah Murray

Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics & Crew Systems

Sarah is responsible for the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory Space Walking training facility.

She has held roles in Astronaut Training and Mission Control. She has been Deputy Chief of Space Flight Training Management where she was the Chair of the International Training Control Board, responsible for Astronaut training across the ISS partners.

She was the Group Leader for the Space Shuttle Communications Group and was selected to lead the Columbia Recovery Office following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident.

Sarah taught school at the Frankfurt International School in Germany and served several years in the United States Army before joining NASA.

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Jay Honeycutt

Former Director of Kennedy Space Centre

Jay is the former Director of NASA's Kennedy Space Centre and the former President of Lockheed Martin Space Operations.

As an engineer Jay has had almost unrivalled senior level experience with NASA in the Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and Space Shuttle Space missions.


2014 winning experiments (Valparaiso University, USA):

This experiment will examine the 3D applications of electrowetting in microgravity.

2014 winning experiments (Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, USA):

This experiment aims to look at luciferase (the enzyme that gives fireflies their ‘glow’) activity in microgravity in a set up very similar to a ‘glow stick’.

2014 winning experiments (Renfrewshire):

  1. Treatment of red-eye (conjunctivitis) in space: Astronauts are required to spend 2 weeks in isolation before any launch to the ISS to prevent them from catching any illness and to allow any illnesses that they have already caught to transpire. As commercial space flight starts to become a reality, the possibility of putting people in quarantine for such a long period will become practically impossible. Conjunctivitis has approximately a 2 day incubation period in humans. It is possible that when commercial space flights increase in length, such illnesses with short incubation periods will require treatment on board the spacecraft. This experiment will therefore determine the effectiveness of treatments for conjunctivitis in microgravity.

  2. Carbon dioxide consumption by cacti in microgravity: Elevated carbon dioxide levels are a potential problem in space. Although plants can readily consume CO2, they are notoriously difficult to grow in microgravity due to fluidic problems. Cacti require very little water and so are predicted to have a much better survival rate. This experiment will see whether their rate of CO2 consumption in space can also be maintained.

2014 winning experiments (King’s College London):

  1. The effect of microgravity on motor function of Drosophila with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms: Feany & Bender (2000) first reported a model of Parkinson’s disease in Drosphila which has enabled the study of this disease in a species which can be easily manipulated without the same ethical considerations as models in rodents and higher species. This experiment will determine the impact of microgravity on the symptoms of this disease, as related to motor function.

  2. Chemical reactions in Alzheimer’s disease in microgravity: This experiment will compare the rate of amyloid beta-protein aggregation on earth versus microgravity. Aggregation of this protein is considered to be a major contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and further understanding of the nature of its aggregation is of potential benefit for future treatments.

2013 winning experiments (King’s College London):

  1. Daphnia magna in space: Daphnia will produce sexually or asexually depending on the nature of their environment. Under stressful conditions, they will resort to sexual reproduction. The aim of this study is to determine whether the microgravity environment of the ISS is stressful enough to initiate sexual reproductive activity through analysis of eggs.

  2. Effect of plant steroids on plant growth in microgravity: Plants are notoriously difficult to grow in microgravity, but they will provide an essential food source for long-term space missions. This experiment will determine whether plant steroids can potentiate their growth in a microgravity environment.

  3. Saprophytic degradation of food in space: Saprophytes (including many types of yeast) are capable of degrading food substances. As food waste is a potential problem for long term space missions, this experiment will determine whether the saprophyte, Kazachstania telluris, can degrade food in microgravity.

2012 winning experiments (King’s College London):

  1. Daphnia magna in space: Daphnia will produce sexually or asexually depending on the nature of their environment. Under stressful conditions, they will resort to sexual reproduction. The aim of this study is to determine whether the microgravity environment of the ISS is stressful enough to initiate sexual reproductive activity through analysis of eggs.

Final report provided in addition to article in Times Educational Supplement.


Mission Discovery is an international programme, which provides an opportunity for young people to work with inspiring role models. It is an ideal programme for students with an interest in pursuing a career in science, biomedicine or technology. However, it is not only for those considering a scientific or medical career – it can give pupils valuable life skills and the confidence to follow their dreams. Mission Discovery has been running since 2012 hosting events in 4 different countries, we hope to expand on this year after year, giving ordinary students the chance to achieve something extraordinary.

If you would like to work with Astronauts and NASA leaders hosting your own Mission Discovery, please contact Ross Barber on: +44 (0)29 2071 0295, or via email at rbarber@isset.uk.


Mission Discovery on NASA TV! - 26th February, 2014

Before becoming ISSET's US Director, Michelle was a Senior Lead NASA Astronaut Trainer and instructor, International Space Station Flight Controller, a Space Operations Planner and a Lead Planner for the NASA's Extreme Environment Operation. Mission Discovery is just one of the multitude of global training programmes she has been a part of, spanning the USA, Europe, India, Russia and Japan. In the video, Michelle mentions that the students' experiments have been completed and have now returned to earth for the students to analyse their results! As seen in previous posts, we launched the winning experiments from Mission Discovery King's College to the International Space Station this January, which was the first time EVER that British schoolchildren have had their ideas enacted on the ISS. We will be reporting shortly on the outcome of the experiments, so keep your eyes peeled!

Scientists to help out with Mission Discovery's Daphnia experiment! - 5th February, 2014

Scientists at Birmingham University have heard about our winners of Mission Discovery 2013 at King's College London, and have offered to lend a hand with their experiments! The winning team, comprising of students from Ysgol Gyfun Garth Olwg, Tonyrefail and Aberdare, created an experiment that observes the mating habits of Daphnia magna (a type of Cladocera, commonly known as water fleas) under the stress of micro-gravity.

The experiment will be launched to the International Space Station later this year! The exoskeleton of the crustaceans is transparent, which makes it easy to see their organs working as they are studied. What makes these water-fleas so interesting is that they will usually reproduce asexually, similarly to many plants, but in extreme circumstances the female will lay eggs that must be fertilised by the male.

Experiments Launch to the ISS - 13th January, 2014

After a series of unavoidable delays since November, the Orb-1 rocket, carrying the first ever experiments by UK school students to be launched into space, finally left NASA's Wallops Island in Virginia! The launch is the first of eight commercial flights arranged by rocket company Orbital to the ISS. "We're posturing ourselves to hit our stride with all of our new commercial cargo vehicles in the 2014 time period," said NASA's deputy space station program manager Dan Hartman. "Orb-1 will be the first, we'll get into some SpaceX, and basically kind of alternate back and forth between Orbital and SpaceX throughout the year. So we're really looking to hit our stride in 2014 to meet our (resupply) needs."

Frank Culbertson, Vice-President of Orbital, said that a booming commercial launch industry will support scientific research by making it "more readily accessible to people on Earth", because "they can participate in what's going on in space".

Mission Discovery joins other programmes across the globe being included in the push to make space research and exploration more available to the public. Orb-1 reached the ISS yesterday morning, and here is a clip of the Canadarm guiding it into the docking bay.

Mission Discovery students appear on Newsround! - 8th January, 2014

Yesterday, two of the Mission Discovery students, Deanna Middleton and Siobhan Gnanakulendran, were interviewed by CBBC's Newsround about their experiments being launched to the International Space Station!

The winning teams (comprising of 12 students overall) will be the first UK school students EVER to have had their experiments performed on the ISS, and have been inundated with requests to appear across the news channels!

Here's a clip of the students in action; The launch is finally going ahead at 18:30 GMT from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility. Don't forget there will be extensive coverage of tonight's rocket launch on Sky News at 13:45 and ITV News at 10 featuring interviews with the teams at Kings College London, and a live stream of the launch will be available on our website soon!