Children received an out of this world delivery as an astronaut brought seeds from space to a County Durham school.
Pupils at Witton Gilbert Primary School were greeted by the otherworldly visitor, who was carrying mail from Major Tim Peake, who is current circling high above the Earth aboard the International Space Station.
And now, over the next month, they will join youngsters across the county in taking part in Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) “Rocket Science” experiment.
Reception teacher Mei Mei Quiney said: “The children are buzzing about taking part – I’ve four-year-olds talking about microgravity and seed germination – and it’s exciting to think they’re doing something that could potentially help shape the future of space travel.
“We’ve received 100 seeds than have been in space and 100 seeds that have stayed here on Earth, but of the two packets we have no idea which is which.
“So over the next 35 days children from the Reception class, who did a space topic earlier in the year, and Years One and Two, who are doing a gardening topic this term, will grow them and send the results to the RHS.
“Hopefully it will help teach us about the potential for growing food in space, for astronauts on long term missions.”
The national project, which is run in partnership with the UK Space Agency, aims to encourage pupils to think about how plants might grow in space and to help them understand the difficulties of living, growing and eating in extreme conditions.
In September 2kg of rocket seeds were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) on board a Soyuz rocket.
The seeds were held in microgravity for six months, with British astronaut Tim Peake in charge of them.
Pupils will now care for the seedlings, record their growth and any observations, and enter the information into a database.
Once all the data has been collected the results will be analysed by professional statisticians.
Leading scientists from the RHS and European Space Agency will interpret the results and draw possible conclusions before publishing the finds on the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website.
Yet as well as providing useful research information it is hoped the project will help inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians – an aim Mrs Quiney says it is succeeding in.
“Many of the children now want to be scientists or astronauts,” she said. “And this has been a great way of getting children to talk about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects from an early stage in their education.”