For two years, Maggie Samudio’s second grade classes at Cumberland Elementary School have pursued the designation of the Say’s Firefly as Indiana’s official State Insect. In a science lesson during this effort, her class wondered whether fireflies would light up in space. Mrs. Samudio decided to pose this question to AAE Prof. Steven Collicott, an expert in experiments in weightlessness or “zero-gravity.” Instead of answering the question for them, Prof. Collicott invited the class along on a multi-year pursuit of a sub-orbital spaceflight experiment to answer their query. Each semester since, a small team of aerospace engineering students from his AAE418 class, “Zero-gravity Flight Experiment,” has advanced an experiment design to test firefly glow chemistry in zero gravity. Classroom visits and demos have been made to promote interactions. The automated experiment weighs just one pound, will mix the appropriate chemicals from fireflies to attempt to create the glow in zero-gravity, and will record the hoped-for glow using a small video camera and recorder.
Prof. Collicott received word this week that ZGGE, the Zero-Gravity Glow Experiment, is scheduled to fly to space and back on the first Blue Origin rocket flight of 2017 accompanied by larger commercial payloads. He and Mrs. Samudio are raising funds for the flight test. The cost to purchase education payload space on this new, commercial re-usable rocket is $5,300.
The West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation is accepting donations for the “Samudio Firefly Spaceflight Experiment.” Prof. Collicott says these donors truly form a “Rocket Booster Club” for this rocket flight of the Cumberland experiment. Prof. Collicott kicked off the fundraising with his own donation for the down payment through the Arete-STEM Project which enables such K-12 payload flights. Several West Lafayette families and one local high-tech company have since made donations.
Having flown a large fluid physics experiment on the June 19, 2016 Blue Origin test flight, Prof. Collicott is delighted to have this joint Cumberland and Purdue experiment flying on this particular rocket.
“This vehicle has flown successfully four times in a row in test flights, and we look forward to a new vehicle next year,” he says. “Blue Origin’s rocket design is great for science payloads.”
In addition, Prof. Collicott notes that Blue Origin just announced that the October 2016 test flight will likely destroy the old booster during an aggressive flight test program and that this will help to enable many dependable commercial flights in 2017 and beyond.