When the Antares rocket failed to make it to space, exploding just mere moments after taking off, it also incinerated the hard work of 18 student teams across the country whose science experiments were on board.
No one was hurt by the explosion but it did take out 5,000 pounds of food, mini research satellites, a meteor tracker, and other equipment for NASA, alongside red worms from Oakland, houseflies from San Marino, chrysanthemum seeds from Washington, D.C., soybean seeds from Louisiana, mosquito eggs from New Jersey, and Dry Lake fairy shrimps from Kalamazoo.
All the experiments were headed for the International Space Station, each one approved and vetted by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. Nearly 1,500 experiments were vied for the chance to hop on board the Antares rocket but only 18 were chosen for the privilege.
The red worms from Oakland were intended for observing whether or not worms can compost food waste and turn it into fertile soil in a zero gravity environment, allowing plants to grow to provide food and oxygen for astronauts.
One experiment wanted to explore just how quickly human waste will decompose in zero gravity, while another was interested in learning more about how E. coli bacteria will act in space.
"The students - and staff - were incredibly disheartened to think that all their hard work had gone up in smoke, but they were relieved to discover that no one was injured and that their experiments would get a second chance to be launched into space," said Troy Flint, communications director for the Oakland Unified School District.
"The students were pretty shocked at first- our rocket exploding was not one of the mishaps we anticipated in this process. But our students are very resilient; this has been a lesson in how failure plays a role in the scientific process on all scales. We are happy that we'll have another chance to launch," added Claire Fisher, principal at Urban Promise Academy.
When the Antares rocket exploded Tuesday, it was on its way to bring supplies to the International Space Station. The next day, investigators were sifting through the wreckage of the rocket built by the Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the two private companies relied on by NASA to deliver supplies to the space station. The Antares had previously taken flight four times, three of which had the International Space Station as the rocket's destination. In those times, the Antares successfully launched.