Three California schools lose experiments in SpaceX rocket explosion

Space Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station broke apart shortly after liftoff.

(John Raoux / Associated Press)

A costly rocket and thousands of pounds in food and supplies weren’t the only things that went up in flames when a SpaceX unmanned vehicle bound for the International Space Station exploded –- so did some California school science experiments.

Though a Russian resupply ship is scheduled to depart for the space station Friday, 24 experiments, including three from California schools, were lost in the SpaceX malfunction.

“They’re on the frontiers of human exploration. On the frontier, it’s often messy,” said Jeff Goldstein, program director for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program that organized the competition. “We talked to them and they understand that look, failure happens. What we do in the face of failure defines who we are.”

The California losses were from an eighth-grade class at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, and seniors at Petaluma High School and Damien High School in La Verne. All the experiments aboard the SpaceX rocket Sunday were chosen from among more than 2,000 proposals created by more than 10,000 students across the country, Goldstein said.


“This is something they’re going to tell their kids about,” he said. “They’re really a part of America’s space program.”

The explosion was only a temporary setback, both for SpaceX and the students’ projects, Goldstein said.

While additional flights are scheduled to go up to the International Space Station this year, the experiments will probably have to wait until 2016, he said.

Damien High School’s experiment would have studied the behavior of tardigrades, microorganisms that can live in the most extreme environments and can stop virtually all their metabolic processes until they’re reintroduced into a normal environment. If the experiment had reached the space station, it would have explored how these processes work in a little-to-zero-gravity environment for up to six weeks.


The Petaluma students’ experiment focused on how the low gravity would affect the growth of an algae that produces biofuel. The results could potentially unlock more efficient ways to harvest the algae on Earth.

The third local experiment, from the eighth-grade class in Santa Monica, explored how chromatography works in a low-gravity environment. The study could shed light on physical chemistry, capillary action and better chromatography designs.

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