BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Columbia Middle School students' experiment has successfully landed to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday after a catastrophic launch explosion in October delayed the project.

Determination by NASA, local SSEP coordinators and the students enabled the "Baby Bloodsuckers in Outer Space" to "remanifest" the experiment for relaunch. The experiment was originally part of the Yankee Clipper payload aboard Orbital Sciences (Orb-3)Antares Rocket on Oct. 28, when the vehicle was destroyed on launch.

There was no hesitation from all involved with the project that the experiment could remanifest and launch at a future date. Nanoracks, LLC, the company that packages and ships for NASA, was immediately in touch with Jim Flakker, SSEP Local Director, regarding the timing to turn around another experiment. 

Sign Up for E-News

The students experienced further disappointment when last Tuesday's launch was called off for a few days by SpaceX because of rocket trouble. The rocket carrying Dragon cargo capsule (with "Baby Bloodsuckers in Outer Space" on board) had launched at 4:47 Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida and successfully  landed to the ISS. 

"Our experience was unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before, it was exciting, frustrating, challenging and ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had," said Columbia Middle School eighth grade student Gia LaSalle. 

A student explained her initial feeling of startlement while watching the orange fiery ball fill the sky after the first rocket launch exploded in front of her eyes off the coast of Wallops Island, VA. She further explained how she dropped to the ground when she heard the loud sound of the explosion and the vibration wave she felt -- "we were devastated."

"The students had to overcome some major set backs that most middle school students don't ever have to face," said Flakker. Further commenting on a statement from a former astronaut who reminded all that attended the second stalled launch attempt, "Remember that spaceflight work is very hard, and in truth, it is harder than it looks."

"Our students have had the chance to learn how professional research is carried out," said Flakker, and expressed how proud he was of each of the students. 

Flakker and Columbia Middle School science teacher Pam Wilczynski provided the Board with a presentation of the process involved with implementing the SSEP program in the district.

Students were asked to investigate a very real scientific problem answering the following question: What physical, chemical, or biological system would I like to explore with gravity seemingly turned off for a period of time, as a means of assessing the role of gravity in that system?

The "Bloodsuckers in Outer Space' experiment will look at the reproductive viability of mosquitoes in zero-gravity.“We believe the eggs will hatch and mature into larvae even in microgravity. On earth, the larvae float to the surface of water to breathe and mature into pupae”, the students explained. Astronauts will preserve the mosquitoes shortly after they should have matured into pupae during their stay aboard the International Space Station.  The students continued to explain,  “without gravity […] the larvae will lack a mechanism to rise to the surface and therefore will fail to mature.”  The students will also perform the same experiment on Earth in order to observe the differences between both specimens.

The SSEP program  involved  650 students in grades six through 12 that were fully engaged and participated in 150 group experiments through their science class or within clubs at Governor Livingston High School and Columbia Middle School. In addition, over 1,000 students from the district participated in the patch design contest that symbolized the community's adventure in STEM education on the high frontier. 

This opportunity was brought to the Berkeley Heights district through the effort of Flakker and Susan Rembetsy, District Science Supervisor from an idea introduced by Board of Education member Doug Reinstein. Funding was made available through sponsorships from businesses and organizations including The Summit Medical Group Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, The Linde Group, The Berkeley Heights PTOs and the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation.