Damien Science Experiment Lost in SpaceX Rocket Explosion

The Damien High School science experiment set to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) has been lost as a result of a the recent SpaceX rocket explosion in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  The SpaceX Falcon rocket with Dragon Spacecraft successfully lifted off at 10:21am (EST), but exploded approximately two minutes into the flight, according to NASA officials.  The Damien students who designed the experiment as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) will still travel to Washington D.C. as scheduled to present their experiment at the Smithsonian Institution.

The team of students is comprised of Co-Principal Investigators: Garrett Souza, David Washington, Ashwin Balaji , Co-Investigator: Richard Conti and Collaborator: Aaditya Patel.

The experiment was set to investigate tardigrade cryptobiotic strategies in a microgravity environment.  Tardigrades can, upon introduction to extreme environments, halt all metabolic processes in order to survive, through cryptobiosis. The students sought to investigate tardigrade cryptobiotic processes by measuring viability after exposure to a microgravity environment in an ametabolic state for a prolonged period. If capable of surviving exposure to microgravity, tardigrades may help us advance human space travel, such as expeditions covering greater distances and durations, as well as understand the evolutionary, possibly extraterrestrial, origins of the organism.

As participants in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, Damien students first had to learn about microgravity in their science classes.  In groups, the students designed their own microgravity experiment and wrote a 5-page research proposal.  In November, a committee of local scientists and alumni selected three Damien research proposals as finalists, which were then submitted to a national selection committee.  This national selection committee selected one of the three proposed experiments for the June 2015 spaceflight.

Damien’s participation in SSEP creates a valuable opportunity to engage students in real-world learning experiences. “As a school, we recognize the need to introduce and support high quality, inquiry based, hands-on science teaching for all our students,” said Charity Trojanowski, Co-Director of the Damien SSEP. “Through SSEP, we were given the opportunity to let the students become real scientists and partake in real science inquiry at the highest level.  Our students have had the chance to do something every scientist dreams of doing.”

For more information on the launch, please visit the media page:


The generous donors who enabled Damien’s participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program include Dr. James M. Lally (Joshua J. Simmons, ’08), William Saito ’87, Dr. Tas Dienes ’88, CASIS, and the Ahmanson Foundation. 

The SSEP is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a non-profit organization that inspires the next generation of scientists and engineers in engaging their curiosity and intrigue. The SSEP is undertaken by the NCESSE in partnership with NanoRacks LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity 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.

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