View Full Version : Hey, kids! Send your stuff into orbit!

Dr Mordrid
15th June 2012, 21:14
Talk about democratizing space experiments....


Hey, kids! Send your stuff into orbit

Wanna do some space science? You no longer have to be a professional researcher, or even a grown-up, to get your experiment into orbit. A new program called DreamUp is offering slots on the International Space Station's experimental racks to school groups for as little as $15,500 a pop, and you can use credit-card reward points to help cover the cost.

"We are committed to lowering the barriers for entry to space research," Jeffrey Manber, managing director of NanoRacks, said in a news release announcing the program. "This is a double win. This first-of-its-kind student experiment donation platform will help create a world-class experience for students."
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NanoRacks, which has already helped put iPhones and the makings for Scotch whisky into space, is partnering up with the Conrad Foundation on the DreamUp program.

"Some experiments can't be done on Earth because we can't 'turn off' gravity," said Nancy Conrad, the foundation's chairman and the widow of Apollo astronaut Pete Conrad. "DreamUp, powered by our partner NanoRacks, is the ultimate 'plug and play,' helping our next great innovators participate in a scientific research opportunity like no other."

Organizers say American Express Membership Rewards points can be put toward the cost of an experiment, at the rate of $10 for every 1,000 points redeemed. The DreamUp program is open to junior-high students, high-schoolers and college undergraduates from accredited U.S. schools.

Teacher, I shrunk the experiment

The concept follows up on a series of student experiments that have already flown up to the station on NanoRacks' platforms. One of the key players in the project will be Werner Vavken, director of Valley Christian Schools' Applied Math, Science and Engineering Institute in San Jose, Calif. Vavken and his students have built experiments for the space station and taught several other schools to do likewise.

The first lesson that Vavken shares with other schools is that doing space science isn't as hard as it sounds. "I explain this to them, and they think I'm from outer space," he told me. "But they really can do it. The sky is no longer the limit."

The key trick is to shrink the experiment: Vavken said the experiments that he and his students build have to fit within a 2-by-2-by-4-inch space (5 by 5 by 10 centimeters). That sounds incredibly challenging, but it can be done. One of the schools he worked with wanted to design an experiment to mix concrete in microgravity — a task that some thought would cost millions of dollars. Suffice it to say that the eight-student team from Faith Christian Academy in Coalinga, Calif., found a cheaper way.

"They conjured up a way to mix concrete in space, in 16 cubic inches, and they didn't have a $4 million budget," Vavken said. The experiment is due to return to Earth next month aboard a Russian Soyuz craft, and the students will then analyze how zero-gravity concrete differs from the Earth-made equivalent on the molecular level.

Other high-school experiments have been aimed at monitoring plant growth, bacterial growth and food spoilage in microgravity.

"The opportunity for students to do small experiments on the ISS is a powerful motivator in science, technology, engineering and math," Julie Robinson, NASA's chief scientist for the International Space Station, said in this week's news release. "DreamUp will provide the opportunity for top students of all socio-economic levels to fly their experiments to the space station, and the NanoRacks system allows them to be completed without any impact to other research activities."

Brian Ellis
15th June 2012, 22:24
How can I shrink the other half to 10x5x5 cm? I want to see whether nagging is the same in µgravity! (Pity the astronauts, though, if it is!) :)