WHILE most young men of their age were watching Limerick play a Munster Final on Sunday, four students at St Nessan’s Community College were tuning in to NASA Live to watch their science experiment blast off for the International Space Station.
The quartet - Jason Hannan, Kevin Hanley, Jamie O’Connell and Jonathan Roche - were winners of a competition ‘The Only Way is Up’ run by the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp) at the University of Limerick.
Bad weather had delayed the launch for weeks but, all going well, their project should dock at the ISS over 250 miles above Earth this Wednesday morning.
The transition year students’ experiment, which aims to test the performance of reinforced concrete in microgravity, was on board an unmanned rocket on a commercial resupply mission to the ISS that blasted off from NASA’s Wallops Island base in Virginia on Sunday.
“It is not the first experiment that has been done with concrete but there is an added dimension in that they have added another component, basalt fibres, for reinforcement,” explained Dr Norah Patten, outreach officer at IComp.
“They want to look at how the cement forms around the fibres if one day people wanted to use lunar materials to build on the moon.”
So if a nuclear winter one day forces earthlings to colonise space, the work of four Limerick teenagers may be of tremendous importance!
Jamie O’Connell said his team, assisted by teacher Gavin Doyle, had “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,” said Jamie, from Cratloe.
The four students will get another chance to study the material after it returns to terra firma some 30 days from now.
The Limerick lads have been generously supported in their endeavours by staff at Irish Cement’s lab while the company also funded their trip to NASA in Virginia in May.
If you missed it on Sunday, you can check out the video on You Tube to see the first Irish secondary school experiment in space.