Two Miami students blast off to NASA launchpad
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 02:10
With help from a special astronomical project, and an enthusiastic engineering professor, a class at Miami University is now reaching for the stars. This summer, two Miami students traveled to the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) launching pad in Wallop Island, Va. to blast a year-long mission called Project Highflight into the sky.
According to junior Elizabeth Beumel, a member of Project Highflight and the team leader of the RockSat-C program, Project Highflight focuses on a variety of different astronomy projects through high-altitude balloon travel and joined a program called RockSat-C last year.
Beumel said two Miami students were involved in the RockSat-C program out of an interest to design a rocket payload for a project. A payload is typically a science experiment that makes up part of the rocket.
“Myself [the team leader] and Desmond Dixon [a junior Chemical Engineering major] were the two students from Miami who went down to Wallops Island for RockSat-C,” she said. “There were no students outside of Miami helping us with RockSat-C. During the year I had help from various students on the project, but no one that stayed with the project for the whole year.”
According to Bob Setlock, undergraduate research adviser and professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering, RockSat-C worked on a payload that would give aspiring astronauts the ability to go to space despite their health conditions. In the past, astronauts needed perfect health. However, with this recent experiment, astronauts will now be able to explore space even with artificial limbs.
“I wanted to make space more accessible to people that aren’t necessarily in perfect health,” Setlock said.
Project Highflight, which was primarily focused on high-altitude balloon launches was surprised by the opportunity to work with rockets. Setlock offered the idea of working on a payload for a NASA rocket and the idea was immediately picked up.
Beumel said the team of eight Miami students measured, experimented and tested the release rate of ibuprofen from titanium nanotubes. The real injection in space is actually antibiotics but the ibuprofen worked as a good control group. The antibiotics are essential for an astronaut with artificial limbs. The injection of the antibiotics would allow access to space despite the health of the traveler. The testing process on Earth was simple, Beumel said, the main issue was figuring out how the initial rocket launch and the zero gravity in space would affect the release rate.
“We worked all last year on an experiment to test the effects that the components of space flight [rocket launch and zero gravity] had on the release rate of ibuprofen from titanium dioxide nanotubes,” Beumel said.
According to Beumel, after the launch of the rocket, the team compiled data and concluded that the release rate of ibuprofen was faster than expected. Due to the single experiment, they concluded space speeds up the process. The team was impressed at the launch of their payload.
“Now that we know it all worked and have collected viable data to show that during space flight the release rate increased we can use that information to create a more exact and specific experiment,” Beumel said.
Since their first rocket launch was a success, the RockSat-C team can look into the future more positively. According to Beumel, the team is now in search for a more precise design.
“The launch is such a unique experience. You wake up before the crack of dawn to get out to the launch pad, so everyone is slightly delirious both due to excitement and lack of sleep,” Beumel said. “First you see it go up, and then hear it boom up. You literally get the breath taken out of you because it’s so incredible and the shock wave hits you as the rocket is launched.”