Student experiments finally launch into space

Photo by Mark Staples via Spaceweather.com / The view from Little Lake Santa Fe Waldo, Fla., 150 miles northwest of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, as the SpaceX rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft with supplies and student experiments headed for the International Space Station launches Saturday morning, Jan. 10 from Cape Canaveral.

After several delays, a failed launch, and then several more delays, the Ocean City High School students who created an experiment to be sent to the International Space Station for testing finally saw their hardwork pay off.

At 4:47 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, the SpaceX rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft with supplies for the ISS, as well as 17 student experiments, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The students and public were able to watch the launch via NASA TV.

“We were excited. The students, everybody watched it from their own homes,” said science teacher Dan Weaver, who helped facilitate the program at the high school.

Saturday’s launch was the culmination of work that began last school year, when students from across the country were invited to submit projects to be a part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program.

Six Ocean City High School students, created an experiment analyzing the effect of microgravity on the attachment rate of E. coli bacteria to lettuce cells. The experiment, designed by Lauren Bowersock, Mercy Griffith, Kristine Redmond, Daniel Loggi, Kaitland Wriggins and Alison Miles, was one of 18 chosen from school districts across the nation to make the trip on Mission 6 aboard the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft.

The experiments were supposed to travel to astronauts at the ISS Oct. 28 from Wallops Island, Va., but were destroyed when the Antares rocket exploded just after liftoff.

After the loss, NASA and NanoRacks assisted the students in recreating their experiments for a new launch.

In addition to the experiments sent to space Saturday, 28 mission patches, including two from Ocean City primary and intermediate school students, were aboard the spacecraft.

“It was exciting after all the delays, with the countdown going on for the launch and expecting it to be delayed,” Weaver said. “I think seeing it actually launch was a huge payoff for them.”

He said the students were excited and relieved to see their project finally make it to space, and are now focused on the next step: the actual experiment.

According to Weaver, the students will be in touch with the astronauts and complete the same experiment on the ground as it happens in space.

“Everything that goes on with our experiment in space, there’s a ground control here,” he said.

Once the experiment is sent back to Earth next month on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and shipped back to the students, the students will analyze and compare.

After that, it’s up to the students on what to do next. Weaver said that in years past, SSEP student scientists have gotten together to analyze their findings in Washington, DC. He said the students can also write papers and submit them to be published.

“It’s up to them,” he said.

Weaver said that he and fellow science teachers and student advisors Catherine Georges and Dave Uhrich are proud of and for the students. He thanked the administration and staff for their support, especially Superintendent Kathleen Taylor, Principal Matthew Jamison and STEM curriculum director Mikenzie Helphenstine.

“Big thanks to them, because the kids wouldn’t have this experience if they weren’t working in the background,” Weaver said.

Weaver said the district plans to take a year off from participating in the SSEP and will try again in the 2016-2017 school year for a spot in the program.

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