FOUR Limerick secondary school students are boldly going where no Irish students have gone before as their experiment to test the impact outer-space has on concrete.
The experiment was the winning entry in a national competition, organised by the Irish Centre for Composites Research, and will be conducted on board the International Space Station after it lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Island base in Virginia on Monday last.
It was developed by teacher Gavin Doyle and the four budding scientists, who jetted out for Virginia three weeks ago from St Nessan’s Community College with a view to testing how Basalt-reinforced concrete reacts in micro-gravity.
The experiment, which will be activated by a NASA astronaut on board the ISS, builds on previous research carried out by Portland Cement in 1991. It will then be returned to the students, who will carry out tests, to determine how man-made products are sustainable in space and, in this instance, to determine if reinforced concrete can be used as a building material.
A photo of the Antares rocket launching.
The students, Jason Hannan, Kevin Hanley, Jamie O’Connell, Jonathan Roche and their teachers Gavin Doyle and Eugene O’Brien spent 8 days in Virginia, USA, where they got access to some of most highly guarded areas of NASA. They also carried out analysis of the experiment before it was loaded onto the cargo section of the Antares Rocket. The worth of the experiment is in the millions of dollars and, depending on results, could be used to develop colonies on the Mars One project.
Their micro-sized, reinforced concrete experiment blasted off from the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia, USA, on the 11th of July 2014 and is still on-board the International Space Station. In the coming weeks it will be returned to the students, who will compare the impact microgravity had on the concrete with the results of a ground controlled experiment they will be conducting back at their north-side Limerick college.
Their project was chosen for the Orbital Sciences Orb-2 mission by winning ‘The Only Way is Up’ competition run by IComp at the University of Limerick, through its partnership with NanoRacks LLC, the first operational space company providing goods and services in low-earth orbit. The analysis of the experiment will also be facilitated by Irish Cement, who sponsored the trip to the US.\
Mr. Doyle, Jason Hannon, Jonathan Roche, Al Worden, Jamie O’Connell , Kevin Hanley, Mr. O’Brien & the Mayor of Limerick Michael Sheahan.
Recently the four students had the privilege of presenting their project to Al Worden when he visited St. Nessan’s Community College. Worden is one of five men, and the only one still living, who flew further from Earth than any others when their Apollo 15 command module travelled to the far side of the Moon in 1971. The Michigan native, now 82, was the Command Module pilot for the lunar mission, which also saw him perform the first deep-space EVA during Apollo 15’s homeward journey. Teacher Gavin Doyle explained that it has been an experience the four students, and indeed the entire school, will never forget. Al Worden’s two day visit to Ireland was organised by Paul Ryan, a Limerick native and space enthusiast.