An estimated 1,000 students from 28 K-12 schools from Missouri, Illinois, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Montana, and Queensland, Australia, participated in Aria-9, student experiment packages that get tested on NASA space flights.
The Aria-9 is the latest Washington University in St. Louis Project Aria’s “fly-and-compare” K-12 experiment packages, according to Keith Bennett, adjunct assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Washington University, and Aria project director.
The Aria-9 carried 126 passive K-12 experiments on the TIGER high-altitude balloon payload that flew over Antarctica from Dec. 16 until Jan. 5, said Bennett. These small student experiments were exposed to near-space conditions for two weeks at an altitude of over 130,000 feet. This allows students to explore the impact of high-altitude, extreme thermal conditions, space radiation, and solar/UV 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 consists 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 to 130,000 feet. TIGER was flown twice before, once in New Mexico in 1997 and in Antarctica in 2001. The 2001 flight was a record for high-altitude balloons lasting over 31 days.
“TIGER was commanded down on Jan.5 after one-and-a-half circles of the pole,” said Bennett. ‘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.”
Project Aria is a Washington University education and outreach program designed to aid both engineering undergraduates and K-12 students. Bennett initiated the program and continues to oversee it. Project Aria allows K-12 students to participate in space and space-related projects. Over the past several years, Project Aria has allowed K-12 students to send experiments aboard the Space Shuttle and participate in remote exploration programs. Previous K-12 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 the fall of 2001. It involved strictly St. Louis K-12 students. Since then, the program has become international and involves hundreds more students than the first one. In the earlier Arias, Bennett and Washington University undergraduate students 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,” said Bennett. “It’s gratifying to see so many students get an early exposure to hands-on science.”
All Aria-9 experiments are student-selected “fly and compare” experiments. Each experiment consists 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. After flight, 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, or rubber, to complex chemical materials such as dissolved copper sulfate or potassium chromate crystals. One school, Ogdensburg Public School of Ogdensburg, New Jersey, is flying a set of fluorescent mineral samples. This experiment is a replacement for the same experiment lost in the Space Shuttle Columbia accident.