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Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Blog » SSEP Entry - 9/3/15

SSEP Entry - 9/3/15

SSEP Experiment Goes Up in Smoke

By Justin Lin

Well, that was unexpected.

The launch that was supposed to send Damien's Student Spaceflight Exploration Program (SSEP) experiment into space exploded two minutes after lift-off. NASA officials currently speculate that a cap from a second stage liquid oxygen tank came undone as a result of excessive pressure. The resulting explosion was the effect of liquid oxygen and nitrogen mixing with air and combusting.

SSEP is a national organization that gives students an opportunity to launch their science experiments onto the International Space Station (ISS).

What started as a day filled with joy quickly turned sour. Class of 2015 members Garrett Souza, Ashwin Balaji, David Washington, Ricky Congo, and Aaditya Patel all spent months working on and perfecting their scientific experiment. Obviously, they were incredibly disappointed by the outcome but are determined to get their experiment into space the second time around.

"It's quite discouraging to see months of labor and intensive work reach such an unfortunate end." said Ashwin Balaji, "But the National Center for Earth and Space and Science Education is very passionate about the work they do and I'm confident that the tardigrades will find their way to the International Space Station (ISS)"

This is the third major setback for the space industry in the past year, with the Cygnus CRS ORB-3 exploding in October 2014 and the Russian Proton-M failure in May 2015. However, NASA and its partners are adamant about pushing forward in sending the 26 student experiments into space.

The experiment intended to be sent to the ISS would have explored the cryptobiotic strategies of tardigrades, microscopic extremophiles capable of handling hostile environments, in the context of microgravity. The tardigrades were dehydrated and placed in test tubes, half on wax paper and half on dried moss, as they are found in their natural environments, minus the wax paper.

A concurrent ground experiment would have also run with the identical setup, giving the scientists a means of comparing the vitality of the tardigrades exposed to microgravity for an extended period of time to tardigrade viability on earth.

Even in this trying time, the Spartan team remains optimistic.They fully understand how unpredictable space exploration is and are trying their best to be patient, despite their frustration.
The SSEP has assured the group that they will have a spot on a future flight, but the exact date has yet to be determined.

“No one can expect their hard work to not be validated. However, we were always aware of this as a possibility,” said David Washington. “For most, this kind of failure is an indoctrination to the world of real research science.”