Santa Monica, we have a problem.

An unmanned rocket launched Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida exploded shortly after liftoff, destroying the science experiment and artwork created by local students as part of an interdisciplinary education initiative.

Several other experiments and art projects were on the SpaceX rocket, dubbed Falcon 9, which was supposed to deliver supplies to astronauts on the International Space Station.

Representatives from Elon Musk’s aerospace company and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the incident.

“Our hearts go out to all the … student researchers and communities,” Student Spaceflight Experiments Program manager Jeff Goldstein wrote in a blog post. “Nobody said space exploration was easy.”

As eighth-grade students at Lincoln Middle School this past fall, Samuel Buckley-Bonanno, Adam Chamas, Charlie Gooding and Shrayes Raman designed an experiment involving paper chromatography — a method for separating chemicals and other substances.

Their experiment was chosen from more than 80 local submissions to represent Santa Monica in the student program, which is run through the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

Orchestrated locally by science teacher Marianna O’Brien, English teacher Gretchen Gies-McLaughlin and other organizers, the initiative aims to promote communication skills as well as scientific expertise.

“I was definitely disappointed,” Gies-McLaughlin said of the launch failure, adding that outgoing Lincoln principal Suzanne Webb reached out to the affected students and their families. “But it shows real science in action. Science is a calculated risk. There‚Äôs trial and error. We want to make sure that we realize that not everything is a success. Sometimes we learn more from our failures than our successes.”

Accompanying the locally crafted science experiment were two decorative patches, which were also destroyed in the rocket explosion.

One of the patches, created by Grant Elementary School student Tatum Meyer, featured a space shuttle with an American flag against a backdrop of Earth and outer space. The other, which shows a rocket zooming towards the International Space Station, was designed by Lincoln student Alisa Boardman.

More than 400 patches — designed by students from Lincoln as well as Grant, Franklin, Roosevelt and McKinley elementary schools — were submitted as part of the contest.

“The future is technology, but if students can‚Äôt communicate their science and technology findings clearly, those ideas are empty and they don‚Äôt come to fruition,” Gies-McLaughlin told the Daily Press earlier this year. “Bringing in the arts makes it more meaningful for many different students. It‚Äôs their chance to have a part of this collaborative effort.”

District officials pooled funding from several sources to participate in the program, including $8,500 from Lincoln’s Parent Teacher Student Association, $7,000 from the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, $5,000 from the California Space Grant Consortium and $1,000 from an SMMUSD fund for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It’s likely that the local students’ experiments and patches will be recreated and relaunched at a later date at no cost to the district.

“We‚Äôre all waiting for the next steps,” Gies-McLaughlin said.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@smdp.com or on Twitter.

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