MHS engineering project lost with SpaceX rocket explosion
Posted on 06/29/2015
Cape Canaveral

A team from McMinnville High School’s Engineering & Aerospace Sciences Academy (EASA) witnessed the SpaceX rocket explosion at Cape Canaveral yesterday morning.  Students, mentors and a teacher from EASA traveled to Florida to see a student nanolab project lift off to the International Space Station, where it was supposed to collect data about how metals oxidize in space.

Less than three minutes after lift-off, the unmanned rocket blew apart in a fiery blast and disintegrated.

“We’re unsure exactly what happened,” said Jeff Jackson, an Intel engineer who is also a project mentor for the EASA nanolab project.

“From our perspective, it looked like everything went fine and then just about the time the first stage was supposed to disengage from the rocket, it looked like there was an explosion, but it was so hard to see from the ground.”

“It seemed almost surreal,” said student Deborah Jackson.  “My dad was looking through the binoculars and handed them over to me. I saw debris, but I thought it was stage one disengaging.  Then I couldn’t see it, but I thought it was my skills as a tracker.  I didn’t put two and two together at first.

“It was more just shock,” she said.

“You learn more from a disaster or failure than you do when things go well,” said teacher MaryBeth Kramer.  Because there were no humans on board, the students can focus on the project instead of the loss, she said.

“Kids learn that what’s important is the journey of creating something,” said Kramer. “It’s more than how the actual experiment worked. The attitude there was let’s figure out what happened and how we’re going to fix it.  We’re moving forward.”

The nanolab project is a microlab “about the size of a butter cube,” said Kramer.  “It has a programmable board with a camera that the astronauts just plug in like a USB port.”

Student Jamie Graham, who also attended the launch and has been on the nanolab team for two years, said the project design involved “chemical, mechanical, electrical and software engineering. All parts of the experiment were designed as a 3D Cad model, then prototyped before being professionally manufactured and tested prior to being launched into space.”

The device was designed to collect data and download it every three days.  Students in McMinnville were poised to track the data and compare it to data collected from their control model.

Because the team made two models, the one for launch and one for control, as well as prototypes, the students think it won’t be too difficult to recreate the nanolab and wait for another launch.

“We’re still in the game,” said Kramer.  “The students got a chance to network with NASA people and even Buzz Aldrin was there.  They’re going to learn from this.”

“I’m still glad we were able to be there,” said Deborah Jackson. “It was a unique and beautiful experience.  Even though it was disappointing. 

“But we don’t do science because it’s easy.”

 

Submitted photo (from left) Jeff Jackson, Jamie Graham, MaryBeth Kramer, Deborah Jackson, and Ken Kramer.