Students in Minnehaha Academy’s Applied Research in Engineering program were especially disappointed to watch the SpaceX’s unmanned rocket explode just after takeoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On board was their biology experiment destined for the International Space Station (ISS).
The students had worked for eight months designing, testing, building, and sterilizing the experiment to measure the effects of microgravity on bacteria growth and using artificial shark skin to inhibit that growth. This experiment is important because bacteria have been shown to be more virulent in space travel. The students hoped the results of their experiment would help protect astronauts from infectious diseases and improve space flight conditions.
Student team members Hazen Mayo and Andrew Johnson were at Cape Canaveral to witness the launch. “It really was an incredible disappointment seeing a years worth of collaboration and research and time and energy come to an abrupt and untimely end,” Mayo told KARE 11. “As soon as I saw it, I knew something had gone terribly wrong.” Despite the turn of events, Mayo and her fellow teammates have remained positive.
“I don’t want to see it as a failure,” Mayo told WCCO News. “Although I would have really loved to see the fruition of my team’s experiment and work this year, I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity that I have had and have shared with my teammates. I’m proud of this work that we’ve accomplished together. I’m taking comfort in the knowledge that I’ve had the chance to experience, at such a young age, the full nature of scientific research.”
“This is a great teachable moment for our students,” said Minnehaha Academy’s ISS science teacher Sam Terfa. “Space exploration is tough work, dangerous and disappointing at times. Science and engineering require people to prepare for the worst case scenario and be as thorough as possible.”
While the rocket explosion is certainly disappointing to the ISS team and the whole school community, we concur with the statement from NASA, “this is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.” And it will not deter our students; they are planning to design two experiments to launch to the ISS in the 2015-2016 school year.
“Studying the effects of microgravity is frontier science,” Terfa said. “Our students have the ability to discover new things that were never known before in science. So many times science classes only cover what has already been discovered. It’s rare that students can learn something brand new about the universe. While it’s a tough road to develop these experiments, and at times the results never come in the way they thought they would, it’s completely worth it to learn new skills and pave the way for future students to learn even more.
Minnehaha Academy is the only school in the Midwest to offer this program, and ISS students were mentored by seven professional engineers, geneticists, and computer programmers as well as two Minnehaha Academy science teachers. Students were invited to conduct parts of their research in the laboratories of their mentors at the University of Minnesota.
A state-of-the-art STEM facility is under construction at Minnehaha Academy for the 2015-2016 school year. This new facility will help students be positioned to excel in the science fields. Classes such as physics, chemistry and the International Space Station project will take advantage of all this new space will offer. New courses are also under development. “As we look forward to new and renovated science facilities, it is exciting to not just envision buildings and equipment, but to focus on the rich harvest for students that the investment in facilities will produce,” said Dr. Donna Harris, President of Minnehaha Academy. “To know Minnehaha Academy is planting seeds of discovery and exploration, and igniting passion for high quality science is absolutely thrilling.”