When a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched into space this month in Cape Canaveral, Fla., a Delaware seventh-grader watched in awe and with pride from the VIP bleachers a few miles away.
Moulai Njie was carrying the banner for his science class at Everett Meredith Middle School in Middletown. On board the Dragon capsule headed to the International Space Station, about 200 miles above Earth, was an experiment designed by Njie and four classmates.
Their experiment –- studying the effect on the bone mass of fathead minnows in microgravity — is one of 11 selected nationwide from about 125 student entries.
Njie and his family were so excited by the prospect of seeing the students’ brainchild rocket off to space that they flew to Florida to witness the June 1 event in person. After the launch was scrapped about 10 minutes before takeoff because of thunder in the area, they decided to stay when takeoff was rescheduled for two days later.
Njie’s hopes were rewarded when the weather cooperated June 3. The launch went perfectly and the students’ work became part of history.
The final countdown and blastoff were pure exhilaration for Njie.
“When it got to 10 seconds it finally clicked in my brain that this is happening,” he recalled. “This is it. I’m sending something into outer space and then as soon as the countdown hit zero just the loud sound of the rocket and everybody going crazy in the bleachers … I was extremely excited.”
The launch capped a whirlwind four-day journey for Njie, his parents and younger sister. On Thursday, he overcame some nervousness by delivering a 10-minute presentation about the project to other students, most of them in high school or college.
Not only did they spend two days at the Kennedy Space Center, the family also took a tour of the Universal Studios theme park in nearby Orlando.
The mission will conclude early in July, and when it does, the tube carrying the bodies of the six minnows that hatched in space will be returned to the students.
Njie often finds himself looking into the sky, and thinking about what is going on with the little creatures.
His hypothesis is that microgravity will negatively affect the minnows.
“I think that they would barely be able to move because of the changes in their bone mass,” the budding aerospace authority predicted. “I doubt they will be learning to swim or even just flat around.”
No matter what happens with the minnows, this experience has led the science whiz to an epiphany.
“I want to be an aerospace engineer,” he said.
That decision crystallized for Njie in one spectacular moment: “As soon as the rocket took off.”