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VALPARAISO | High school and college students will develop experiments beside former NASA astronauts Ken Ham and Jerry Ross, and former mission controller Michelle Ham this summer at Valparaiso University. 

Ken and Michelle Ham and Ross will be in town for the weeklong Mission Discovery Camp, where students work beside professionals to develop experiments fit for low-gravity environments. At the end of the week, one experiment is selected and carried out on the International Space Station. 

"We use space to get students excited about science, math and technology," Michelle Ham said. 

Students can develop any experiment they want, as long as it fits within the weight, size and power draw limitations. Earlier this year, the first two experiments were sent into space. One explores the effects of antibiotics in microgravity; the other tests the growth of a 3D slime mold in microgravity.

The Mission Discovery camps began in 2012 after Michelle Ham's nonprofit, Higher Orbits, teamed up with Chris Barber and the International Space School Educational Trust. 

"We target high school and college students because we want to show them the opportunities they can have if they pursue a career in STEM," Michelle Ham said. 

Ken Ham has worked with students at several Mission Discovery camps. His favorite part is getting to know the students and see the "light bulbs go off" as they develop their experiments.

"I spend a lot of time giving one-hour speeches," Ken Ham said. "I never really get to connect with students, but when you spend five days with them, it's really neat." 

One London student, who came from a lower-class background, stood out to Ken. It was the last day of camp, Ken recalled, and, with tears in his eyes, the student said, "Things like this don't happen to people like me." 

"I will never forget that," Ken Ham said. "To see him realize that he is a member of the human race and he can do anything he dreams. I'm getting chills just sitting here talking about it."

This summer, three Mission Discovery camps will be held in the United States. Michelle Ham, a Hobart native, made sure one happened at VU.

"She really had a special desire to host it here," said Mary Miller, communications outreach and recruiter for Valparaiso University's College of Engineering. 

Michelle Ham's dreams to work with space began when she was a child. Her grandmother called her in to watch the first space shuttle launch in 1981. 

"I was hooked after that," she said. "I could never get my hands on enough space stuff."

Michelle Ham got to live her dream. She worked at NASA as the mission controller for the International Space Station and traveled the world training astronauts. She attributes her success to everyone who helped her along the way, including the people she knew growing up in Hobart.

"The community where I came from helped shape who I am, so I wanted to bring Mission Discovery back here," she said. 

The VU camp runs July 21-25 and costs $500 per student. Signups are rolling, but students are encouraged to sign up before July 4. Out-of-town students can purchase limited accommodations for an additional $500. Scholarships are available through Higher Orbits at higherorbits.org. Students can sign up for Mission Discovery at isset.org/mission_discovery

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