Collaborating with NASA Astrobiology

We have been given the opportunity to collaborate with astrobiology researchers from the NASA Ames Research Center.  We are so lucky!

The NASA Ames research team develops activities that are based around the study of the origins and evolution of stars, planetary systems, and life on Earth, Mars, and elsewhere.

The experiment we are participating in involves participants in the NASA Eclipse Ballooning project sending up samples of a certain bacteria into the stratosphere. Because the stratosphere has little oxygen and there is more radiation from the sun, it is a good representation of the Martian atmosphere.  This experiment will help the researchers understand what happens to the bacteria when it has been in an extreme Mars-like environment.

The bacteria is called Paenibacillus xerothermodurans, which is a spore forming bacteria that was isolated from the NASA spacecraft assembly clean-rooms in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 29 teams that are participating each have their own bit of this same bacteria they will be attaching to their payloads, and the NASA Ames team will examine the bacteria after the launchers have been retrieved.

Above is a map of where the 29 teams will be launching. We are one of the pinpoints in East Wyoming.

The whole experiment is a very cool idea, and we’re so excited to be a part of it. It’s going to be super fun!  We’re looking forward to receiving our field kit from the NASA Ames team.  Thank you for letting us participate!

We Get to Work With NASA On the Next Launch!

The poll on which new Lego minifigure to send up is going great so far and we’re all looking forward the launch!

One super excited thing that’s happening this launch is that we are going to be working with the Eclipse Ballooning Project! This project consists of citizen scientists across the country who will be launching weather balloons into the path of totality. At the end, we all share our data with each other and NASA, which we think will be really cool. We’ll be launching in Glendo, Wyoming with the Montana Space Grant Consortium and will get to work on our project alongside real scientists.

We’re also hoping to be part of a NASA microbiology project that intends to examine how microorganisms fare in near-space conditions. We’ll post more about that later.

We’ve decided on our two goals for this launch:

1. To capture footage of the moon’s shadow on the earth

2. To capture and analyze data from our flight computer and solar panel as they pass through the solar eclipse

We’ll post more about differences for this launch and other details soon. Super excited!

Who Should We Send to the Stratosphere?

We’re getting ready to launch in August and it’s time to select a new LEGO minifigure. We’ve narrowed it down to three options: Merida from the movie Brave, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, and Amelia Earhart, the first pilot to cross the Atlantic. We think that all of them were strong, empowering, girls. What’s your opinion about which of them should be on the Loki Lego Launcher 3.0? Let us know here!

We look forward to the final results!

Loki Lego Launcher 3.0: Into the Eclipse!

We plan to launch the Loki Lego Launcher 3.0 this summer, hopefully in the path of the August 21 solar eclipse! We’ll be launching in East Wyoming hoping to capture footage of Earth during the eclipse. We’re also interested in what our solar data will show too.

We’re still thinking about which LEGO minifigure we want to include as our co-pilot. For the first launch we sent R2-D2, for the second launch we sent Rey, and now our criteria is for it to be a strong female who is recognizable and can be found in LEGO.

There will be more to come later. Stay tuned!

Published in Scholastic Magazine

We loved reading Scholastic and Ranger Rick and Highlights and other magazines like that in our early elementary grades.  So you can imagine how excited we were when Scholastic contacted us and told us they would like to publish our project in their SuperScience magazine.

We did an interview with them and answered a few questions through e-mail.  Dad sent them a few photos that they asked for.  Then, they turned our project into a learning unit in their November 2016 SuperScience article.  They wrote it using language that was easier for younger kids to understand.  They also had an Investigate It! sidebar, and an online skills sheet, and they also linked to our video online as well.

It was really cool to be in a magazine that we had read for many years.  Thanks Scholastic!

Appearing in President Obama’s Issue of WIRED Magazine

President Obama is guest editing the November issue of WIRED magazine. We are very excited because he specifically asked for us to appear in it. We are honored to be asked and we are so grateful that he even remembered who we were.

A few weeks ago, we set up a Skype interview with Elise Craig, a writer for WIRED.  We enjoyed talking to her about our project. WIRED also brought us to New York to get our pictures taken for the magazine by a professional photographer named Platon. He has taken pictures of leaders from all over the world, which was amazing. We had to keep it all secret because we weren’t allowed to give away the surprise about the President being a guest editor.

When we got to the studio, there were people there who were helping with the photo shoot. They included a really nice guy who was in charge of hair and makeup, a producer, and a photographer assistant.  It was an interesting experience because we’ve never had a professional photo shoot before.

Platon was really nice to us and he asked us to do different poses for the pictures.  It was really fun, but it was hard not to smile and it was also hard to hold a pose for so long.

The digital version of the WIRED issue came out today, but the print version will come out next week.  We subscribe to the magazine, so we can’t wait to see the issue!


Barack Obama: Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive

Our Interview with Adam Savage from Mythbusters

In April, we were invited to present our project at the White House Science Fair and many people came to see our project. We had the honor of being asked to present our project to the President of the United States.

We also presented our project to many members of the media and science celebrities. Adam Savage, the co-host of Mythbusters, also came to the White House Science Fair to check out the science projects that were on display.  He was funny and really nice to us. He seemed to be really interested in what we were talking about, and he was very animated when he talked.

It was really exciting for us to get to meet him and talk to him about our project, especially because our family are really big fans of his show!


More Data Analysis

Our data came from our flight computer and was recorded in a .TXT file. The column headings include:

Date, Time, Latitude, Longitude, Head, Km/h, Alt-m, mV, mA, mW, Temp C, and Pa

We then imported the .TXT file into Microsoft Excel and deleted all the information from before the launch and after the landing. Then Dad imported the Excel file into Tableau, a graphing software program. We then came up with a bunch of different graphs to display our data.

Click images to enlarge.

Altitude vs Pressure

As the balloon ascends, the pressure decreases because the density of air goes down. As our spacecraft approaches 30,000 meters above sea level, the atmospheric pressure approaches zero pascals. This lack of pressure is what eventually causes the balloon to pop.

Alt-m vs Pa

Altitude vs Temperature

We learned about the changes in temperature shown in this graph in our last launch, which is very similar to this graph, which is good, since we don’t think the layers of the atmosphere have changed since our last launch.

The first layer of the atmosphere is the troposphere. While traveling upward through the troposphere, the temperature gets colder. But as soon as it reaches the second layer of the atmosphere, the stratosphere, the temperature becomes warmer. We will have to do some more research to find out why.

Alt-m vs Temp C

Altitude vs Current

We attached a solar panel to our spacecraft and it measured the solar current that it was collecting. This graph shows the current that the solar panel absorbed from the sun. The lines are very jagged because of the motion of the spacecraft, but the trend line we created shows very clearly that our hypothesis was correct: As we get higher, there is more current generated by our solar panels and we think that this is because there are less particles in the air to block the suns rays.

Alt-m vs M A

Altitude vs. Power

Power is equal to Voltage times Current (Power = VI) so both voltage and current are factors in this graph. You can see the lines gradually show the curve that the voltage showed during the ascent. Also, the trend line, though it is not quite as pronounced, shows that there was more power as the balloon ascended, which shows the current.

Alt-m vs M W

Altitude vs. Voltage

The voltage measurement is measuring the voltage produced by the batteries powering our flight computer. We were very surprised at the change in voltage because we thought that the battery voltage would continually stay the same and not change. It did not seem that we could make any conclusions from this chart. But by comparing voltage to a different measurement in our next chart was really interesting.

Alt-m vs M V

Voltage vs. Temperature

When we first saw this graph we thought that since the temperature was changing with the atmospheric layers, the voltage levels must be too. However, we did some more research and we found out that the voltage levels actually changed because of the temperature levels, not because of the atmosphere. The temperature changes because of the atmosphere, and the voltage changes because of the temperature.

We did some more research and the reason this happens is because of the chemical reactions inside the battery. When the temperature gets warmer, the chemical reactions happen faster, and consequently there is higher battery performance and more voltage. On the flip side, when the temperature gets colder, the chemical reactions happen slower, so there is lower battery performance and less voltage. This correlates very clearly with our data set from the launch.

M V vs Temp C

Altitude vs Speed

Our speed data was a little bit different from the last launch: see From the Project Binder. Last launch, our speed stayed around 35 km/h until it reached the tropopause, the space in between the troposphere and the stratosphere, the first and second layers of the atmosphere. In the tropopause, there is very little air resistance so the spacecraft was able to move much quicker than otherwise. However, in our second launch our spacecraft’s speed rose steadily to reach its high speed in the tropopause instead of a sharp difference of speed like our first launch.

Alt-m vs Kmh