Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final flight may be the thrill of a lifetime for 19 Maitland Middle School students.

A student-designed experiment aimed at helping astronauts conserve water will fly aboard the shuttle, which is scheduled for its last launch Friday, April 29, from Kennedy Space Center. The students, who call themselves the “Endeavour 19,” will watch the liftoff from Kars Park in Merritt Island.

“I’ve never seen an academic competition that has inspired this kind of excitement,” said Lynn Mederos, the students’ science teacher. “My students were begging me to come to school early and to stay late.”

The students’ experiment explores whether ethanol kills the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria in space as well as it does on Earth. If it does, it could mean that astronauts could “wash” their hands with alcohol-based sanitizers and not use water and soap.

University of Central Florida professors Bill Safranek and Laurence von Kalm on Saturday, April 30, will help the students set up an on-the-ground experiment that will serve as a comparison for what they learn from space. Safranek and von Kalm will help the students analyze their findings after Endeavour returns to earth.

“The most important thing is to show them that science is fun,” said Safranek, an assistant professor in UCF’s Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences, which is part of the College of Medicine.

Von Kalm, the associate chair of Biology, worked on an experiment involving fruit flies that flew aboard the space shuttle in 2006.

Mederos said working with UCF professors in a university science lab will be a great opportunity for her students, many of whom have been inspired to pursue science-related majors and careers.

The student experiments flying aboard the shuttle were selected by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. Experiments had to be designed and led by students, and teachers were allowed to only serve as facilitators.

The Maitland students’ experiment was one of only 16 selected to fly aboard the shuttle from nearly 450 proposals submitted nationwide. A donation from the Community Foundation of Central Florida supported the students’ work.