By Libby Smith
LAFAYETTE, Colo (CBS4) – Several students at Centaurus High School are anxiously awaiting the launch of their science experiment into space. The Atlas 5 rocket was supposed to carry it into space on Sunday, March 19, but that launch has been delayed. While the students wait for a new launch date, they’re reflecting on the three-year journey it took to get to this point.
“It kind of gave me a feel for what a professional work environment would be,” said Mary Hanson, a senior at Centaurus High whose been working on the project from the beginning. “We didn’t really have anyone telling us what to do. It was all student lead.”
The projected started three years ago when the students won a design competition sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. CASIS gave them $10,000 to bring their project to fruition.
“We had no idea what the experiment was going to look like or how we were going to do it,” said Brian Thomas, an engineering teacher at Centaurus and the teacher sponsor of the project.
“We had to design everything to fit in this one box,” Hanson explained.
They were also given a computer board they had to use to run the project. It required the students to learn a new computer coding language.
“We worked with some folks from Texas A&M,” Thomas said. “It was just developing code from scratch to get it to read what we wanted it to read, and spin the way we wanted it to spin.”
The students want to simulate gravity on the International Space Station. They’re studying why bacteria grows differently in space, and designed a centrifuge to apply force to their cell samples.
“If we can understand why cells grow differently in space or even how they grow differently in space, that’s the first step toward being able to spend more time in space,” said Tristan O’Connell.
“We had nothing to start with and they were problem solving and brain storming from the ground up,” Thomas told CBS4.
“I think we came up with 14 or 15 different designs for just the inner casing,” Harmon said.
They used a 3D printer to make the parts, they fit them together, coded the computer board, and then prepared the bacteria for travel. The teens say they learned a lot.
“Learned a lot about sterilization and sanitation especially doing the bacteria. Definitely some problem solving skills when equipment wasn’t working right. Just the process of getting something into space and how risky and uncertain that is,” said John Painter, a sophomore working on the project.
This is the second time around for this experiment. The original team prepared the project for launch in June of 2015, but it exploded on board the unmanned Space X Falcon 9 rocket. The team went back to the drawing board, but this time they had the original plan. And this time around the space experiment will have another Colorado connection.
“An alumnus from Centaurus… he’s going up and he’s actually going to do our experiment. Crazy coincidence, it’s awesome,” Painter said.
Astronaut Jack Fischer graduated from Centaurus High School in 1992. In June, he’s scheduled to fly to the International Space Station and, among his other duties, he’ll run this space experiment. The students hope to have a live video chat with Fischer while he’s in space. Right now, they’re a little unsure when they’ll get their data back from the experiment.
Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you’d like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.