The third crewed mission to the International Space Station by Elon Musk’s private SpaceX company that lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre on Friday is carrying with it a computer experiment by two Irish schoolgirls.
The 17-year-old girls are the first Irish students to have had their computer experiment for the International Space Station (ISS) accepted.
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Niamh Staines and Kitty Joyce are fifth year computer science students at the Mount Temple comprehensive school on Dublin’s northside.
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet brought the girls’ computer code with him when he took off from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida shortly before 11am (Irish time) on Friday. He is one of four crew members on board the SpaceX Crew-2 mission ‘Alpha’, which will dock with the International Space Station on Saturday.
Mr Pesquet will run the Dublin teenagers’ experiment during his stay on the space station. The experiment is to investigate the effects of weather patterns on the temperature of Earth’s surface.
The successful experiment was described by Niamh and Kitty. “We can measure the heat exposure of the surface of the Earth using an infrared camera, known as Izzy, to take photos of the regions that the ISS passes over. We will analyse these to compare the temperature of certain regions of the Earth’s surface with the cloud coverage passing over them at that time.”
David Frew, the computer science teacher at Mount Temple, said that Niamh and Kitty were “very excited” to have their experiment accepted for the International Space Station.
“Niamh and Kitty have have shown self-directed independent learning, which is a key concept in a subject such as computer science. This achievement is entirely down to their hard work and diligence,” he said.
“Remote learning has been difficult for everyone during the last year and a half but these two girls have pulled together and demonstrated a high level of dedication and application.”
“That shows we can overcome anything in the face of uncertainty when you have passion and commitment for what you are studying,” he added.
The experiment is one of those submitted by 214 teams from Europe and Canada that have been awarded “flight status” this year. The teams represent 21 countries and 862 young people.
The Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off on Friday carried Shane Kimbrough, the commander, Megan McArthur, the pilot along with Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet, who are the mission specialists to the space station for the six months mission.
Pupils at the school had planned to view the launch online.