Irish student experiment reaches for the stars on the ISS

15 Jul 2014

Jason Hannan, Kevin Hanley, Jamie O'Connell and Jonathan Roche are the students behind an experiment bound for the International Space Station

A science experiment designed by students from Limerick has left the planet aboard a rocket heading for the International Space Station (ISS), to study the effects of microgravity on concrete.

The rocket blasted off from US space agency NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia this past Sunday, carrying with it the Irish experiment, in much the same vein as the experiment by professors Denis O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson. In 1972, their experiment took off with the Apollo 16 mission that landed on the moon’s surface to study cosmic radiation.

The students, Jason Hannan, Kevin Hanley, Jamie O’Connell and Jonathan Roche, are from St Nessan’s Community College, Limerick. They won a competition called ‘The Only Way is Up’, run by the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp), and now their experiment will spend the next 30 days orbiting Earth.

The experiment itself was designed and built by the students themselves, with support from their teacher Gavin Doyle and help and advice from IComp and Irish Cement’s laboratory at its Drogheda facility.

The experiment will be ‘activated’ by an astronaut on the space station to mix the components in the tube which consists of cement, water, sand/gravel mix and Mafic Basalt fibres and will then be returned later in the summer for the students to carry out post-spaceflight analysis on the experiment and compare it directly to a ground-controlled experiment.

O’Connell said the experience is a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We spent about two months in class trying to get the mixture right. This is the sort of thing that you cannot learn in a text book. You have to work out the problems and the solutions for yourself and see what works best,” he said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic