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, of course, the suit is weightless.
The 2018 National STEM Scholar class used a space travel engineering experiment designed by Rico Tyler and Kerrie McDaniel, co-directors of the National STEM Scholar Program at Western Kentucky University’s Gatton Academy, to develop a set of experiments for their middle school students to predict how much acceleration a marshmallow can survive during a launch into space. The experiments will address 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.
Just how much pressure can a marshmallow take?
Middle school engineering teams in 30 Scholar classrooms in 20 states are working to determine the maximum weight Marvin can support on Earth, then design a suit that’s heavy enough to protect him – but won’t crush him on lift-off or re-entry. Students will share data between schools and predict the maximum weight of the suit that will protect him without injury during sub-orbital flight. A team of scientists at STEM Scholar program partner Gatton Academy on the campus of Western Kentucky University (WKU) will also make predictions. The data will be collected, graphed, compared and used as the basis for future projects.
To execute the project, Marvin will be carried in a NanoLab onboard a New Shepard suborbital rocket during an upcoming launch past the Kármán line – the internationally recognized boundry of space – in a partnership between NSCF and spaceflight services company Blue Origin.
A 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.