St. Louis science project returns from space to Lindbergh High School
Biraj Pokhrel and Dylan Rice cut into a small package after class at Lindbergh High School on Monday and pulled out a palm-size clear cube filled with colorful squares of plastic.
The cube had just returned from a trip to space on a NASA suborbital rocket.
“It's kind of surreal at this point, honestly, that it finally came back after going to space,” said Pokhrel, a junior at Lindbergh.
The students were hoping to find out if 3D printed plastic could be used in space. The project was part of an international science program called Cubes in Space.
Pokhrel said the idea came after he heard of someone using duct tape to make a repair in space. At the time, 3D printing was a popular topic, so he wondered if it could be used in a similar way.
“Wow, that's convenient,” Pokhrel said. “Imagine if you could just fix it just by printing something out.”
He and Rice first thought they would 3D print a model of the International Space Station to send to space, but eventually they decided to send more scientific, easily measurable plastic chips. They used two types of 3D printed plastic to see if each reacted to the travel differently.
The students started the experiment when they were in middle school.
“I didn't know how long it was going to take, and then COVID happened and other stuff happened, and it took a really long time,” said Rice, a Lindbergh junior.
First, the pandemic delayed the experiment by about a year. Then, when it was finally time to ship off their clear cube, FedEx lost it, along with the other experiments that were supposed to travel with it.
Eventually the experiments were found, and it was finally time for them to make their trip into space this summer.
On Monday, Pokhrel and Rice weighed the plastic chips and compared their appearance to photos they took before sending them off. Teacher Nora Lafata pulled up the original measurements on the classroom’s smart board. So far, Pokhrel says, it seems like the plastic held up well.
“I think I actually am pretty pleased with the results because so far looking at the qualitative data, like look at how it looks and stuff, it hasn’t changed that much,” Pokhrel said. “I'm hoping that since it didn't change that much, it would actually work in space.”
The teens are hoping to follow this project with eventual careers in science or engineering.
Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke