Rocky student's algae experiment lost during failed SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch

[USA] The unmanned SpaceX rocket that exploded only a couple of minutes after liftoff Sunday morning from Cape Canaveral, Fla., carried more than just supplies to the astronauts at the International Space Station.

It also contained a science experiment long in the making by students at Rocky Mountain College. The Algae Growth and Remediation Project had a spot reserved on the space station for at least a month.

Three of the students who worked on the project and their adviser, Andy Wildenberg, an associate professor of computer science at Rocky, were on hand at the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch.

“Obviously we’re disappointed that our experiment was lost, but we are very glad that nobody was hurt,” Wildenberg said when reached by telephone Sunday morning.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, June 28, 2015. The rocket was carrying supplies to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, June 28, 2015. The rocket was carrying supplies to the International Space Station.

Wildenberg and the others had attended a reception at the center on Saturday. On Sunday morning the group, considered VIPs for the launch, arrived at 7:30 a.m. and were taken to a site three miles from the launch pad where they were included in a briefing, he said.

“(Astronaut) Buzz Aldrin was there, and we got pictures of the team with him,” Wildenberg said.

Then came the launch, which appeared to go off perfectly, he said. Watching the rocket soar into space was exhilarating and much different than watching it on TV, Wildenberg said.

Then came the launch, which appeared to go off perfectly, he said. Watching the rocket soar into space was exhilarating and much different than watching it on TV, Wildenberg said.

“News cameras can’t really capture how bright the flame is on the rocket and what it feels like to have the sound impact you, even though you’re three miles away,” he said. “It was a very amazing experience.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, June 28, 2015. The rocket was carrying supplies to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, June 28, 2015. The rocket was carrying supplies to the International Space Station.

The explosion happened about 2½ minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, the Associated Press reported. Wildenberg said he and the others saw a puff of smoke, and they assumed it was a stage separation.

“It wasn’t until we came back into the briefing and people started using the world ‘anomaly,’ which is just a big euphemism for ‘it broke up,’ that we knew,” he said. “It just got very quiet.”

At that point in the day, Wildenberg hadn’t heard many details about what went wrong with the rocket. A news conference with NASA officials was planned for later in the morning.

The good news for the Rocky contingent is that all of the work the students put into the experiment hasn’t gone up in smoke. Two more copies of the experiment are ready in Billings “that we could launch tomorrow,” Wildenberg said.

The experiment is designed to see if algae grown in gel-like agar could supply the International Space Station with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide more efficiently than is done now. If so, it could decrease the weight of life support supplies needed in space.

Wildenberg is hopeful the experiment will find a spot on a later rocket to the space station. In the meantime, parallel ground experiments that had been planned at Rocky will go on.

“We’ve got plenty of work to do this summer,” he said.

 

Photo: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday. The rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff.

View original article at: Rocky student experiment lost during failed SpaceX rocket launch

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