With NASA's blessing, a group of Colorado University students were able to participate in what sounds like the coolest university test ever: crashing a real NASA satellite into the ocean.
The satellite, known as the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (or ICESat), orbited the Earth for seven years gathering data on ice sheets and sea ice dynamics until its scientific payload inexplicably shut down.
Scientists couldn't restart it, so they tasked Colorado University students to help bring it down. Which really means help figure out how to use the ICESat's last bit of fuel to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up its 907kg body to 90kg as it crashes into the Arctic Ocean.
It wasn't just all just fun, games and explosions though. Darrin Osborne, a flight director for ICESat, describes what the students had to do:
"They ran calculations to determine where the spacecraft was located and made predictions for NASA ground stations that tracked it," he said. "The students did this seven days a week until the decommission was complete."
That's on top of working nights, holidays and during school breaks to earn the gig, so it was hardly a walk in the park (and probably not as exciting as it sounds). But hey, how many kids get to say they crashed a NASA Satellite over summer break? [Colorado University via Pop Sci]