Kansas City 8th-graders see experiments go up in flames during rocket explosion

Posted at 5:39 PM, Oct 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-31 18:39:31-04

A group of 8th-grade students in Kansas City are starting over after a rocket carrying their science experiments exploded Tuesday.

The St. Peter’s School students are part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, or SSEP. This program involves several schools including St. Peter’s, Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology and Crossroads Academy.

“They have to be critical thinkers, have to be able to collaborate with each other, solve problems, experiment, test,” said Dr. Marian Brown, superintendent at Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology.

Kansas City is the first community that has sent student experiments to the International Space Station on three consecutive missions. Mission 5 has been completed, the experiment arrived back in Kansas City recently. Mission 7 will happen in the future.

Holden O’Keefe, Nicole Ficklin and Eamon Shaw are part of Mission 6. They’re 8th-graders at St. Peter’s School. Their experiment is one of only 18 that were selected to travel to the ISS.

“We were testing the effects of antibacterial cleaning agent, liquid iodine, against e-coli and seeing if the iodine will eliminate more bacteria in micro-gravity or on Earth,” said Ficklin.

There are very specific guidelines for each experiment. It must have real-world, practical application. The experiment must fit within a small plastic tube that’s only about few inches long. It can contain up to three compartments, and the astronauts must be able to complete the experiment using only the tube.

“Who expected that the little kids from Kansas City would have their very own experiment going to the International Space Station?” asked Shaw. “It's just this awesome, prestigious award that's the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Their experiment includes three compartments, separated by clamps. The astronauts will just need to unclip the clamps and shake up the contents. Then, they’ll be able to see if liquid iodine can effectively eliminate the bacteria in space.

“If iodine doesn't work as well in space as it does on Earth, then they might need to formulate a better agent to keep the astronauts safe,” Ficklin said.

They decided on this experiment after brainstorming many ideas.

“We started last year in 7th grade and we worked on it all summer,” O’Keefe said. “All the way until, well, it was going to launch on Tuesday and then, it blew up.”

O’Keefe said he and his classmates all gathered to watch the launch together. Excitement turned to dread after they saw the explosion.

“It just kind of stopped and it just seemed like everything stopped and I was in shock,” said Shaw. “This hasn't happened in decades, and to think that our experiment had just burned into flames and exploded, it was not a good thing.”

Kristen Marriott is the S.T.E.M. teacher at Crossroads Academy. S.T.E.M. stands for science, technology, engineering and math. She has worked with all three groups of students who have had experiments selected to go into space.

“It is very impressive and it makes me excited for what the future holds,” she said. “It takes a lot of determination because they have to think outside the box, not just outside the box but outside the Earth and what they're going to do for space.”

She said while it’s disappointing to the students to know their hard work was destroyed with the rocket, the students of Mission 6 know they will get their time in space.

“Just because it didn't make it up this past Tuesday, they have great anticipation that it will,” said Brown.

For now, the students will work on recreating their experiments, knowing their connection with space will continue to grow.