An estimated 1,000 students from 28 K-12 schools worldwide participated in the University’s Aria-9 program, in which student experiment packages are tested on NASA space flights.
The Aria-9 was the latest of the University’s “fly-and-compare” K-12 experiment packages, according to Keith Bennett, adjunct assistant professor of computer science and engineering and Aria project director. Schools from Missouri, Illinois, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Montana and Queensland, Australia, were involved.
Project Aria is a University out-reach program designed to allow K-12 students to participate in space and space-related projects.
The Aria-9 carried 126 experiments on the TIGER high-altitude balloon payload that flew over Antarctica from Dec. 16-Jan. 5, Bennett said.
These student experiments, at an altitude of more than 130,000 feet, were exposed to near-space conditions for two weeks. This allowed students to explore the impact of high-altitude, extreme thermal conditions, space radiation, and solar/ultraviolet effects on everyday materials.
TIGER stands for Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder. The TIGER Antarctic mission is a Washington University/NASA project designed to measure galactic cosmic rays (GCRs).
The mission consisted of the TIGER GCR instrument attached to a large, high-altitude balloon. This balloon carried TIGER for 20 days above Antarctica at altitudes from 100,000 feet to 130,000 feet.
TIGER was flown twice before, once in New Mexico in 1997 and in Antarctica in 2001. The 2001 flight set a record for high-altitude balloons, lasting more than 31 days.
“TIGER was commanded down on Jan. 5 after one-and-a-half circles of the pole,” Bennett said of the most recent flight. “It was a very successful flight, and the payload is on the ice now, awaiting recovery. The Aria-9 program is very grateful for all the support of the TIGER team.”
Bennett initiated Project Aria and continues to oversee it. The initiative has allowed K-12 students to send experiments aboard a space shuttle and participate in remote exploration programs.
Previous projects include the Aria-1, Aria-2, Aria-3 and Aria-4 space shuttle packages. Arias 5-8 are awaiting future shuttle flights.
The first Aria flight went up on a space shuttle in fall 2001. It involved strictly St. Louis K-12 students.
Since then, the program has become international and involves hundreds more students than the first. In the earlier Arias, Bennett and University undergraduates assisted local students in the building of equipment to carry their experiments.
“The program has grown, and the types of experiments have varied with each different flight,” Bennett said. “It’s gratifying to see so many students get an early exposure to hands-on science.”
All Aria-9 experiments were student-selected “fly-and-compare” experiments. Each experiment consisted of three small identical samples stored in small, 50-milliliter polycarbonate vials.
One sample was kept at home to serve as a control sample. The second sample was placed on the ground outside the Antarctic McMurdo base. The final sample was placed in the Aria-9 flight experiment package and flown with the TIGER instrument.
Students will compare the flight and Antarctic ground samples to the control samples.
Students, under the guidance of their teachers, selected a wide range of materials to fly. These included everyday materials such as ink, film and rubber, to complex chemical materials such as dissolved copper sulfate or potassium chromate crystals.
One school, Ogdensburg Public School of Ogdensburg, N.J., flew a set of fluorescent mineral samples. This experiment is a replacement for one lost in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.