At long last, the Endeavour soared.
To cheers around the country and especially the Canyons Administration Building the shuttle Endeavour took flight for a 16-day mission into space. Canyons students, teachers, parents and administrators gathered at district headquarters to applaud as NASA control counted down the seconds to the historic launch.
The spark and flame coming from Endeavour’s engines was a welcome sight for Hillcrest High’s Megan Dolle, Keltson Howell and Nikos Liodakis, the students who successfully submitted an entry in a national science-project contest to gain a spot on the payload. Physics teacher Jonathan Miller guided the students throughout every phase of the project.
Miller also accompanied the students to Florida last month to watch the Endeavour lift off. However, disappointment abounded when the April 29 launch was scrubbed. Less than an hour before the shuttle was scheduled to thunder into the sky, NASA discovered that an auxiliary power unit had failed. The students and their families, who had already staked out their places to watch the launch, had to return to Utah for their Advanced Placement exams without seeing their project blast into space.
The project “Microgravity’s Effects of Morphogens in Common Species” was one of 16 student projects and the sole one from Utah selected to be aboard the Endeavour. The 6:56 a.m. Monday launch marked Endeavour’s 25th and final trip into orbit. The shuttle, which was built to replace Challenger after its fatal explosion, will be retired to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
“We are investigating the effects of microgravity in the embryonic development of a species, in this case the African pond frog,” Miller said. “We want to know the role that gravity plays in the diffusion of various chemicals when life is developing.”
By all accounts, the launch Monday was nearly flawless. Crowds across the country rejoiced as the shuttle roared past thin, grey clouds. The mood at the Canyons Administration Building was jubilant. The students, suddenly cast in the local and national spotlight, were interviewed several times by TV, radio and newspaper reporters.
The project was as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). The program is a national education initiative that provides fifth- through 12th-graders the ability to propose experiments to fly in low Earth orbit. The SSEP was started in June 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a project of the non-profit Tides Center, in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC. The student experiment flight opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.
“This is fantastic. I am so proud,” Miller told KSL-TV Channel 5 immediately before the launch. “I am excited to be a part of it. There’s no higher honor at this level.”
As of Monday, according to the Associated Press, Endeavour had logged more than 116 million miles, circled Earth some 4,500 times, spent 283 days in space and carried 170 people, including the last two people to fly a space shuttle for the first time. Endeavour’s last voyage is largely dedicated to the delivery of a $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which has been designed to study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.
Endeavour’s commander is Mark Kelly, whose wife, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. The injury was suffered in an assassination attempt that left 13 injured and six dead, including a including federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. Rep. Giffords attended the launch and watched the lift-off with other spouses and family members of the astronauts.
“It’s in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore,” Kelly said Monday morning. “We must not stop.”
See the media coverage of our students’ accomplishments:
Click here to see a report on KUTV Channel 2
Click here to see a report on KTVX Channel 4
Click here to see a report on KSL-TV Channel 5
Click here to hear Keltson Howell’s 6:50 a.m. live interview on KSL Newsradio
Click here to see a photograph of the students and Mr. Miller in the Deseret News
Click here to read more about the project in the Deseret News
Click here to read about the project in the Salt Lake Tribune