A commercial cargo ship rocketed into orbit Sunday in pursuit of the International Space Station, the first of a dozen supply runs under a mega-contract with NASA. It was the second launch of a Dragon capsule to the orbiting lab by the California-based SpaceX company. The first was last spring.
This time was no test flight, however, and the spacecraft carried 1,000 pounds of key science experiments and other precious gear on this truly operational mission. There was also a personal touch: chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream tucked in a freezer for the three station residents. When it comes to the International Space Station, even the ice cream has science behind it! The ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries in Texas, is making its 2nd appearance in Orbit – the first being in 2006 on the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Contrary to what you might think, the ice cream isn’t your usual freeze-dried ice cream that normally goes into space, it’s the same as you buy at the local grocery store. The ice cream is kept in a special refrigerator that has a freezer with the ability to reach temperatures as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also onboard the capsule is material to make silly putty, also known as Space Mud to all of you High Touch High Tech fans out there! The Silly Putty will be made by the astronauts while in space to see whether or not Silly Putty can be made in space in the first place. If so, experimenters will want to know how it differs from the regular, Earth-made version of the stuff. It’s hypothesized that the space-made Silly Putty will be possible to make, but its viscosity is expected to be different from the Silly Putty we all know and love.
This experiment is just one of the 11 science experiments chosen from a pool of 1,125 experiments proposed from around the country to blast into orbit courtesy of the SSEP National Initiative. Designed as a keystone STEM Education program launched as a U.S. National initiative in June 2010, SSEP engages entire communities. Each participating community is provided all launch services to fly a real microgravity research mini-laboratory in low Earth orbit, capable of supporting a single experiment. An experiment design and proposal process in each community, mirroring how professional research is undertaken, allows student teams to design microgravity experiments vying for their community’s reserved mini-lab slot. Additional programming leverages grade K-12 community-wide engagement in STEM education.
SSEP is the first pre-college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture. SSEP is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.
A decade ago, commercial space travel was considered pure fantasy, however, SpaceX is making it a reality! The company’s unmanned Falcon rocket roared into the night sky right on time, putting SpaceX on track to reach the space station Wednesday, October 10. The complex was soaring southwest of Tasmania when the Falcon took flight. Officials declared the launch a success, despite a problem with one of the nine first-stage engines. The name Falcon comes from the Millennium Falcon star ship of “Star Wars” fame.
The Dragon will spend close to three weeks at the space station before being released and parachuting into the Pacific at the end of October. By then, the space station should be back up to a full crew of six. SpaceX is unique as none of the Russian, European or Japanese cargo ships can bring anything back from orbit due to them being destroyed upon re-entry to Earth.
To learn more about the SSEP, including future opportunities for student participation, visit:
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