WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — When SpaceX’s Dragon capsule launches in spring 2012, a very special payload will be on board: 15 student experiments from the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. The big deal is that those experiments from “SSEP Mission 1 to ISS” will be part of space history. Dragon will become the first commercial vehicle to dock to the International Space Station, and these student experiments have the distinction of being the only payload on board.
The launch of SpaceX’s Dragon not only marks the beginning of a new approach to U.S. space access — it clearly demonstrates that students still have an opportunity to explore in the post-shuttle era. The first two rounds of SSEP experiments were carried to the station in 2011 aboard space shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis on their final missions, STS-134 and STS-135, respectively. The set of SSEP Mission 1 experiments, called Aquarius, was originally slated to fly aboard the Soyuz 30. But in an interesting twist of fate, the experiments were re-manifested on the maiden voyage of the SpaceX Dragon. Aquarius not only becomes part of a historic first but also allows the space station to remain an out-of-this-world platform to engage students in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.