How I Launched My Science Experiment Into Space

A rocket flies from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on June 24How many people can say that they built a payload that flew into space? Maybe the people at NASA can, but now even I can say that I built something that flew into space. I launched my experiment on a rocket from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in late June, joining hundreds of other college students who also sent their experiments into space. My journey to Wallops began with a simple program application that allowed me to travel to Wallops as one of nearly 10 students from CCA selected to participate in RockOn! Thanks to the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, which is funded by NASA, I and other CCA students can participate in workshops that are usually beyond our reach and for that I am truly grateful. When I applied for the workshop I had just begun my first engineering course at CCA and was kind of intimidated. Despite my apprehension, I had heard awesome things about this workshop from other students who had participated in RockOn! and that really motivated me to apply. They explained that it would be a lot of work but they also assured me it would be worth it in the end. Really, all I knew for certain was that at the end of this journey I would have the pleasure of watching a rocket blast into space. The days leading up to the trip were filled with planning and with the help of Bernadette Garcia, a student service specialist at Colorado University - Boulder, I started my journey on Friday, June 17. I was accompanied by other students from CCA – Chris Doyle, Eugene Golden, Anika Noor, Oleksiy Pobyeda, and Ashleigh Corse. After flying to Baltimore, a long drive awaited us in order to get to our hotel in Chincoteague, VA. After we slept, we headed to Wallops on June 18 in order to start the week of a lifetime. We met in a room with many participants – I am guessing maybe more than 100 students from across the country participated in this event. After being properly welcomed, they split us up into teams of three and sent us to our stations to begin the build of our payload. For the next three days we worked hard and put in long hours, but we were guided by program administrators every step of the way. I would like to thank Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, and his many assistants for putting together such a comprehensive workshop.

You didn't have to have a background in robotics or have to be passionate about science to be a part of this workshop, but in many cases many students were, and that's what made the experience so great. Anyone can do it and learn firsthand about what it takes to become an engineer. During the workshop we built a Geiger counter, a shield, and we integrated and tested many sensors that were part of the payload. Once we had all of our pieces we put them together into one finished product on a plate and loaded code so that it could record data. The program allowed us to fly 11 grams of whatever we wanted on our payload as well – 33 grams per team. I placed a NASA patch on it and now I can say that I own a patch that flew into space. We then loaded our payloads into canisters which we placed into the rocket. We participated in the integration of the canisters and signed the red shell of the rocket. We visited the final build of the rocket and many people took tours around the base which granted them access inside NASA's hangars and planes. During our wait we had the opportunity to meet many people and faculty members that talked about possible internships, showed us the importance of sounding rockets (what our payload would be flying on), and we even saw a presentation on the Super Pressure Balloon that NASA has launched. Overall, the entire workshop demonstrated the importance of NASA's research and allowed participants to experience a taste of that in a meaningful way. In our free time, we explored Virginia and I got to swim and see the ocean for the first time in my life. June 23 at the crack of dawn only to find out that the flight had been cancelled due to weather since it was very stormy during those days. We had to wait yet another painful day and we had feared that we might miss seeing our rocket flight due to the delay. With our fingers crossed, we awaited the launch of our rocket. The next day everyone gathered at the launch site bright and early. There were many clouds in the sky and many of the participants were worried that they might scrap this launch also. But luck was in our favor because the skies cleared up just long enough for us to watch the launch. The countdown began and everyone excitedly followed along. “Three, two, one,” no lift off, it was just a test run. Two painful minutes later the real launch began. Again everyone counted down and when the countdown ended all you could hear was a piercing sound in the wind and the rocket gone in the blink of an eye. Days of work were gone in the blink of an eye, but it was all worth it.    

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