It was the explosion seen around the country. Sunday, the SpaceX Falcon 9 blew up just two minutes after its launch into outer space. And with it, three North Charleston students lost yet another experiment. But despite having witnessed their experiment explode on two different rocket launches, quitting is not in their vocabulary.
Three students from Palmetto Scholars Academy were in Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9.
“It’s called SSEP… Students Space Flight Experiments Program,” explains Gabriel Voight. It’s the program that he, Rachel Lindbergh and Joseph Jarbey are members.
They had a vested interest in the rocket launch because it was carrying their experiment.
“A lot of people have studied sending them and watching them grow and develop, but no one yet has studied the detachment of tin whiskers,” says Gabriel. “In space flight,” adds Rachel.
That’s right. The three young scientists are studying tin whiskers.
“I heard this mentor in the background. He was taking about how SPAWAR had launched a satellite and there was actually, there was suspected to be tin whiskers problems,” explains Gabriel of how he became interested in the subject.
Tin whiskers are exactly what they sound like: thin, microscopic fibers that grow from tin over time.
“If a whisker falls off and reattaches itself to a circuit board without coding, there can be a partial or full failure of that satellite in space and we haven’t really studied it yet,” says Gabriel of how important the study could be.
The trio sent up their experiment with the Orb-3 several months ago. The Orb-3 exploded almost immediately after launch.
“After the Orb-3 explosion, our mentors at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center wrote and said ‘Hey. Really sorry about what happened but we have ice cream and we have card guides from the space shuttle Endeavour.’ And I’m not sure which we were more excited about at the time. But were able to take these card guides and look at the whiskers that were already growing,” remembers Rachel.
So they tried for a second time to get their project to the International Space Station on Sunday.
“We gotta keep going. We gotta keep moving on with our experiment. This is real space flight. Stuff is going to happen. We should have expected this because this is always a possibility with space flight,” says Gabriel of how the team reacted after the explosion.
So third time’s the charm, right?
“We’ve been through this, after the Orb-3. We know how it goes. We know what we have to do. We have to prepare our experiment. We have to wait for a next launch. But we are definitely ready and we’re probably more motivated than ever now,’ says Joseph.
The next launch has not been planned because right now both launch pads in Virginia and Florida are shut down due to the two explosions.