Image: Student-designed SpaceX mission patches
Student-designed mission patches, including those pictured, will fly with students' experiments on SpaceX’s first Dragon capsule to launch to the International Space Station.
updated 5/16/2012 8:14:04 PM ET 2012-05-17T00:14:04

Students' science experiments are about to make history, launching to space on the first attempt by a U.S. commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.

And like many other historic space projects, the students' payloads packed on board SpaceX's Dragon capsule have their own specially-designed mission emblems, which are also flying to the orbiting laboratory.

Set to launch before dawn on Saturday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the students' experiments, along with other cargo, will fly with SpaceX's Dragon unmanned cargo craft as it tries to do what only government-owned vehicles have accomplished to date: approach and link-up with the space station. If successful, the mission will symbolize a sea change in the way the United States approaches space travel, with SpaceX and other companies vying to take cargo and crew members to orbiting complex.

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If the Dragon reaches orbit atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and passes a series of approach and maneuvering tests in the vicinity of the station, then NASA will give the go for the outpost's crew to use the space station's robotic arm to capture the capsule and berth it on the station. [ Photos: SpaceX Poised for Historic Dragon Launch ]

Should that happen, then the 15 experiments comprising "Aquarius" — the name given to the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education's Student Spaceflight Experiments Program Mission 1 to the space station — will be among the first payloads delivered to the station on a commercial cargo craft.

The competition among students to fly experiments was stiff, as was the contest to design their mission patches. A total of 779 student teams submitted proposals for the 15 science slots and nearly 5,000 students offered 2,299 insignia ideas from which just 22 were chosen.

There be (no) Dragons
Ironically, none of the almost two dozen student mission patches that were selected to fly depict the vehicle that their experiments are riding on.

Aquarius, which utilizes liquid mixing tube assemblies that function similar to commercial glow sticks, follows two similar student flight opportunities arranged by NanoRacks LLC on NASA's final two space shuttle missions. Further, Aquarius was first slated to fly on a Soyuz spacecraft.

When the students' experiments were re-manifested, they went from launching on the Russian rocket to the SpaceX Dragon.

The Soyuz and space shuttle appear on quite a few of the patch designs, as do more rudimentary rockets, but the Dragon's gumdrop shape is nowhere to be found. Many of the emblems do however, feature the International Space Station as their destination.

The designs, which range from crayon-colored creations to computer-assisted drawings, also include representations of the Earth, moon and Mars and the American flag.

One of the emblems does include a falcon, but rather than represent the rocket that is launching the Dragon capsule, the Falcon 9, the depiction of the bird is borrowed from the school's mascot.

Like the experiments they represent, the patches hail from student teams spread across the U.S.. Selected patches symbolize schools in California, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas.

Two tickets, round trip
The students' experiments range in focus from the effects of microgravity on bacteria to the speed of wine making — fermentation — in space. Other experiments examine the growth of fish and spiders in weightlessness and the use of cacti excretions to purify water.

The Aquarius package will stay in space for just under six weeks before coming back to Earth on Soyuz TMA-03M, the same spacecraft returning three space station crew members on July 1.

The students' patches will also make the round trip, and will be embossed with a certification stating that they flew in space.

Each school community was invited to design and fly two mission patches. The emblems had to measure 4-inches by 4-inches and could only be produced on paper.

The Dragon that is bringing the experiments and patches to space will make its own return to Earth about a month earlier. Assuming a May 22 berthing with the station, its re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is expected on May 31.

Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and Twitter @ collectSPACE and editor Robert Pearlman @ robertpearlman. Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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