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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
blast off

SpaceX launches third crew on recycled rocket with computer experiment by two Irish schoolgirls on board

The 17-year-old are the first Irish students to have had their computer experiment for the International Space Station accepted.

NASA / YouTube

THE THIRD CREWED mission to the International Space Station by Elon Musk’s private SpaceX company that lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre this morning is carrying with it a computer experiment by two Irish schoolgirls.

The 17-year-old girls are the first Irish students to have had their computer experiment for the International Space Station (ISS) accepted.

Niamh Staines and Kitty Joyce are fifth-year computer science students at the Mount Temple comprehensive school on Dublin’s northside.

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet brought the girls’ computer code with him when he took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida shortly before 11am (Irish time) today.

He is one of four crew members on board the SpaceX Crew-2 mission “Alpha”, which will dock with the International Space Station tomorrow.

Pesquet will run the Dublin teenagers’ experiment during his stay on the space station.

The experiment is to investigate the effects of weather patterns on the temperature of the Earth’s surface.

The successful experiment was described by Niamh and Kitty: “We can measure the heat exposure of the surface of the Earth using an infrared camera, known as Izzy, to take photos of the regions that the ISS passes over. We will analyse these to compare the temperature of certain regions of the Earth’s surface with the cloud coverage passing over them at that time.”

David Frew, the Computer Science teacher at Mount Temple, said that Niamh and Kitty were “very excited” to have their experiment accepted for the International Space Station.

“Niamh and Kitty have shown self-directed independent learning, which is a key concept in a subject such as a computer science. This achievement is entirely down to their hard work and diligence,” he said.

“Remote learning has been difficult for everyone during the last year and a half but these two girls have pulled together and demonstrated a high level of dedication and application.”

“That shows we can overcome anything in the face of uncertainty when you have passion and commitment for what you are studying,” he added.

The experiment is one of those submitted by 214 teams from Europe and Canada that have been awarded “flight status” this year. The teams represent 21 countries and 862 young people.

Pupils at the school are expected to view the launch later today online and the school has provided a live link to the NASA website.

The Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off today will carry Shane Kimbrough, the commander, Megan McArthur, the pilot along with Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet, who are the mission specialists to the space station for the six months mission.

They then boarded three white Teslas for the launchpad, a new tradition established by SpaceX, whose owner Elon Musk also made an appearance.

The cars’ license plates read “recycle,” “reuse,” and “reduce,” in a nod to the fact that both the Falcon 9 booster and Crew Dragon capsule were deployed on previous missions.

Flying on reused vehicles has been a key cost-saving goal of NASA’s partnerships with private industry.

It is the third time SpaceX will send humans to the ISS as part of its multibillion dollar contract with NASA under the Commercial Crew Program.

The first mission launched last May and ended nine years of American reliance on Russian rockets for rides to the ISS following the end of the Space Shuttle program.

“In terms of getting the operations ready, it’s always easier the third time you do it,” Daniel Forrestel, a NASA launch integration manager, told AFP.

“I would never ever want to describe spaceflight as ‘routine,’ but ‘more familiar’ is a good way to put it,” he added.

The Crew-2 team has around 100 experiments in the diary during their six-month mission.

These include research into what are known as “tissue chips” — small models of human organs that are made up of different types of cells and used to study things like aging in the immune system, kidney function and muscle loss.

Another important element of the mission is upgrading the station’s solar power system by installing new compact panels that roll open like a huge yoga mat.

After launch, the Falcon 9 rocket will return to Earth for an upright vertical landing on a drone ship, and the Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 9.10am Saturday, with hatch opening two hours later.

Pesquet and Hoshide have said they plan to liven things up by sharing their national cuisine with crewmates.

- With reporting from AFP

Diarmaid Mac Dermott
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