When a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded Sunday, it also blew apart at least 30 student science projects, including two from Delaware.
Meredith Schwartzendruber, a science teacher at Caravel Academy in Bear spent months preparing her students to launch their science experiment on fruit flies into space. They wanted to see how the fruit fly anatomy would be affected by the low gravity environment in the ISS.
On Sunday morning, she turned on the NASA livestream to watch the launch from Cape Canaveral.
"[In] the first two minutes, I was elated. It was a beautiful launch. And then watching it going to pieces, I broke down. I was devastated, heartbroken for all the students who had their experiments on board," said Schwartzendruber.
Nonetheless, she says the experience was an eye-opener for her students.
“I think this was a tremendous lesson for the students to know that spaceflight is not routine. It is very difficult to get something out of Earth’s gravity and accidents can happen at anytime. I think it’s a good lesson to pick things up and keep moving.”
Caesar Rodney High School in Camden also had an experiment aboard the Falcon 9. The students wanted to test how hydrogen peroxide would react with human skin cells in low gravity. Daniel Lopez, assistant principal of Caesar Rodney, is also disappointed, but he says the accident presents a teachable moment.
“It’s unfortunate that the rocket malfunctioned and exploded, but on another side, that’s the real world. And the intent of this whole project to give students a feel what science is like in the real world and sometimes, this happens," said Lopez.
If SpaceX Mission CRS-7 had succeeded, it would have been the first time projects from Delaware high schools traveled into space. Caravel Academy raised $31,000 to participate. Caesar Rodney High got halfway to a $30,000 goal through crowdfunding.
Both schools were offered and plan to accept another opportunity to send the same projects on a future mission. Neither would have to pay for a second mission, though Caesar Rodney would still need to raise its remaining $15,000.
This was SpaceX’s third attempt to fly the Falcon 9 rocket with reusable booster rockets. The previous two missions had failed the landing portion. A statement from Space Exploration Technologies says the rocket experienced an “overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.” As of Monday, SpaceX engineers are still investigating the cause of the rocket’s malfunction.