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Kamloops students' space project set for liftoff... again

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January 05, 2015 - 4:44 PM

KAMLOOPS - A science project dreamed up by a group of students in Kamloops that exploded on a rocket launching pad almost two months ago is about to get a second chance at space travel.

Four boys from McGowan Park Elementary School won a contest to have their experiment join 17 other student projects from across North American on a trip to the International Space Station.

But the amateur experiments — along with a payload of supplies destined for the space station — were destroyed on Oct. 28 when a NASA-contracted rocket exploded in a spectacular fireball in eastern Virginia.

Paul Hembling, project co-ordinator, said he's crossing his fingers that the students' experiment finally launches with all the others early Tuesday morning on a SpaceX resupply mission to the space station.

He'll be awake at 3:20 a.m. local time to watch a live feed from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and expects the students to behave no different.

"I would be surprised if any of them aren't (awake)," he said with a chuckle. "You're a Grade 8 boy, and your experiment that's going to space has already blown up once and now it's supposed to launch again. I don't think they're going to sleep."

The Kamloops students' experiment examines how the zero-gravity environment of space affects the growth of crystals.

The students prepared silicon tubes containing solutions that, when mixed, cause crystals to form. Once the tubes are on the space station, astronauts will remove small clips keeping the solutions apart.

When the tubes return, the students will analyze the crystals and compare them to crystals grown on Earth.

The boys attended McGowan Park when they submitted the project, but they are now in Grade 8 and are no longer in elementary school.

"The real trick in science is to do science with kids in a way that makes it real for them and makes it seem like its purpose isn't just because it's part of the assignment. To give real world applicability," said Hembling, who has taught science for 16 years and is now a high school principal.

"That's the whole beauty of project-based learning. Is to get kids to do something that means something."

McGowan Park teachers are planning to hold a celebration on Tuesday afternoon — should the launch be a success.

The projects are part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which is run by the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

The local school district in Kamloops raised $25,000 to secure a spot on the mission. Student groups within the city then competed to determine which project would be selected. Hembling said he was relieved the students were asked to rebuild the project without being asked to front new costs.

The rocket involved in the failed October launch was Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket.

No one was hurt in the explosion, but it damaged a state-owned launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Officials hope to have the launch pad repaired and ready for testing late next year.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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