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WKU STEM program launches first ‘Mallownaut’ into space on Blue Origin New Shepard rocket

The National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) has announced that for the first time in the history of space travel, a marshmallow “astronaut” named Marvin has traveled to space in an experiment designed by the National STEM Scholar Program.

The National STEM Scholar Program empowers science teachers to motivate students at the tipping point of life-long science interest – middle school. The experiment launched from the Blue Origin facility in West Texas.

“This was an extraordinary opportunity for students to take their work from the classroom and literally launch it into space,” said Dr. Paula Grisanti, National Stem Cell Foundation CEO. “We are proud to partner with The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science on the campus of Western Kentucky University to ignite the imaginations of students across the country and inspire a new generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) pioneers.”

A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket during a recent launch. (Blue Origin photo)

The 2018 National STEM Scholar class used a space travel engineering experiment designed by Gatton Academy partners Rico Tyler and Kerrie McDaniel, co-directors of the National STEM Scholar Program, to predict how much acceleration a marshmallow could survive during a launch into space. The experiments addressed national science standards related to material physical properties and pressure: create a safe spacesuit for a marshmallow astronaut named Marvin – the world’s first Mallownaut.

“If we don’t excite students about science in middle school now, we run the risk of being unable to fulfill critical, high-demand STEM jobs in the future,” said Rico Tyler, SKyTEACH Master Teacher in the WKU College of Education.

To execute the project, Marvin was carried in a NanoLab onboard a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket during a recent launch past the Kármán line – the internationally recognized boundary of space. The Nanolab is about the size of a full-size Kleenex box and designed with miniaturized circuitry and cameras to launch experiments briefly into space for study and problem solving in microgravity.

When astronauts launch into space, their spacesuits protect them from multiple physical challenges. A bulkier spacesuit offers greater protection, but too much weight can crush the astronaut on ascent or descent. Once the spacecraft exits the earth’s gravitational pull, the suit becomes weightless.

Middle school engineering teams in 30 STEM Scholar classrooms in 20 states worked to determine the maximum weight Marvin could support on Earth, then design a suit heavy enough to protect him, but not crush him on lift-off or re-entry. Students shared data between schools to predict the maximum weight of a suit that would protect him without injury during launch and sub-orbital flight.

A team of scientists at STEM Scholar Program partner Gatton Academy also made predictions. The data was collected, graphed, compared and will be used as the basis for future projects.

From National Stem Cell Foundation

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