An unmanned SpaceX rocket headed for the International Space Station exploded Sunday, June 28 shortly after launch, resulting in the loss of numerous experiments and supplies for astronauts on board the space station.
Although officials do not yet know what caused the explosion, SpaceX and NASA will be conducting an investigation to uncover what went wrong, according to an NASA statement.
The lost experiments were intended to serve as educational demonstrations of scientific concepts for students, covering topics that include free fall, orbit, buoyancy, heat transfer, and more, said Jeffrey Bennett, teacher of astrophysics and author of scientific children’s books and textbooks. “This is the first time NASA has attempted to send up experiments solely for the purpose of educating students,” Bennett said.
Five of Bennett’s children’s books are currently in orbit at the space station. Story Time from Space, living up to its name, has created videos of astronauts aboard the station reading Bennett’s science books in an effort boost literacy and STEM education. The project is “intended to be a global program,” Bennett added, so some of the readings have also been recorded in Japanese and German.
To begin building more comprehensive lessons, former astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason designed the experiments so that the astronauts could film themselves doing them in order to demonstrate concepts covered in the books, explained Bennett.
Efforts to re-launch the experiments are already underway, said Bennett, although the schedule for the next rocket launch has not been finalized yet. Meanwhile, a second launch of books is planned for Dec. 3.
The nine demos range in complexity and are geared towards all grade levels, including college students Bennett noted. The demos, like the reading videos, will be free, said Bennett, and “educators from around the world have expressed great interest in the experiments.”
Since the cost of sending tools into space increases with weight, Bennett described how the materials for the demos must be specially manufactured, costing roughly $20,000-25,000. Once the experiments are created, they must go through a series of tests conducted by NASA to verify they are fit for space travel, which can take months.
In order to help move the re-launch effort forward, Story Time from Space has set up a GoFundMe page and is seeking donations.
—The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 28. The rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station broke apart shortly after liftoff. —John Raoux/AP
—In this photo provided by Kellye Voigt, from left, Gabe Voigt, Joe Garvey and Rachel Lindbergh pose for a photo outside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, on June 28. The students had a science experiment aboard a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station that broke apart shortly after liftoff. It was the second time they had lost their experiment in a rocket failure. —Kellye Voigt via AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.