Spacecraft or Ballooncraft?

We have been calling our Loki Lego Launcher a spacecraft, but it’s technically not a real spacecraft, since it hasn’t quite made it into space yet.  There is a line that is generally considered to be the dividing line between the earth’s atmosphere and space called the Karman Line, which is 100 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.  We only made it up to 23.8 kilometers (78,000 feet).

Some people have said that the Loki Lego Launcher made it to nearspace, but we’re not really sure what distance that is.  The engineers at NASA JPL said that we were strato-balloonists and stratospheric explorers, and we guess that part is true, since we made it out of the troposphere, past the tropopause, into the stratosphere.

Our Pressure vs Time data shows that the atmospheric pressure got really close to zero near the top of our craft’s ascent.  That means the atmosphere is super thin up there; we wouldn’t be able to breathe.  But apparently that doesn’t quite qualify as space either.

The scientists at Johns Hopkins APL call their vehicle a ballooncraft, which makes sense because they have a gigantic balloon attached to it.  The Loki Lego Launcher probably qualifies to be called a ballooncraft too.

However, we like the sound of spacecraft a little bit better.  So, with apologies to those who object, we’re going to call the Loki Lego Launcher our spacecraft. 🙂

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Lessons Learned

On the six hour car ride home, we came up with a list of lessons we learned from our first launch.

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Some of the key lessons we learned include:

Don’t stop trying – you will never know if you don’t ask.

Always be optimistic – we thought everything went wrong but everything went right.

Be willing to reconstruct – If you found out there is a problem, do not be afraid to take it apart and start all over again.

Have a redundant system – worry less.

Speculation – Don’t guess.  Rely on data.

We’re looking forward to applying these lessons on our next launch!

Curiosity, Creativity, Confidence

Hi, this is Dad here, for a guest post.

I thought I’d share a little bit about this project from a parent’s point of view.

Rebecca and Kimberly both ask a lot of questions.  I think every toddler goes through a “Why?” stage; it seems that their “why stage” has lasted into their elementary school years.  One of the cornerstones of the school they attend is inquiry-based learning; they have been taught to ask questions from an early age.  Their K-3 technology teacher taught them that not only is being curious a good thing, but making mistakes is a good thing too.  All kinds of discoveries have been made from making mistakes.  Our kids came home from Kindergarten saying they made a “Beautiful Oops.”  Rebecca’s current Science teacher tells the kids to challenge assumptions, and not accept things as fact without having the data to back it up.  Great advice from a sage educator.

At home, we’ve challenged them to ask questions about books they read, the food they eat, or the things they talk about with their friends.  However, few things seem to generate as many questions as our little home science experiments.  There are all kinds of DIY projects and relatively inexpensive science kits available these days. From extracting DNA from a kiwi fruit, to building a hydraulic arm using syringes and tubing, to seeing what happens to a balloon filled with helium when it rises in the air, the girls have had lots of opportunities to make their own discoveries and ask their own questions.

Having a healthy disregard for the impossible has helped in the confidence department.  Just like many other kids, and as cliche as it sounds, our girls have constantly been told there’s nothing they can’t do if they want it enough.  There’s nothing a boy can do that a girl can’t either.  We’re aware that a confidence gap can develop with some young women, and we want to provide every opportunity for our daughters to avoid that.  Whether it’s swimming with whale sharks, jumping off a cliff down a double black ski run, or floating a picture of their cat into space, this reinforcement of anything is possible has partly resulted in them having a secure sense of confidence and a desire to just try stuff.  Of course, that’s coupled with the reminder that the only way to get good at something is to work at it and practice; confidence without effort doesn’t result in much either!

However,  I believe that some education systems are set up to reward memorization of facts rather than the pursuit of discovery or having a passionate sense of curiosity.  I get that facts and figures are important, but I’d argue that nurturing curiosity and feeding a child’s passion for learning eventually results in a more well-rounded human being.  This applies not only to math, science and engineering, but also to humanities and the arts and all manner of things creative.  Maintaining a sense of wonder in a child for as long as you can is possibly one of the greatest gifts a parent could give.  The burdens of responsibility and the objections of the cynical may soon enough dampen the curious spark in a young adult, but if kids are instilled early on with a sense that learning is a lifelong pursuit, then maybe learning will become its own end, its own goal.

In any case, the Loki Lego Launcher project was, in part, a result of curiosity and creativity in two girls who asked a lot of questions.  While there was a great deal of uncertainty too, the successful completion of all of their mission goals resulted in a boost of confidence that few classroom experiences could ever reproduce.