Students from University of Bridgeport School of Engineering and the University of Hartford to participate in unprecedented scientific testing that mimics conditions on Mars.

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will plunge portions of 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina into two minutes of darkness during the middle of the day. As part of the NASA Eclipse Ballooning Project (EBP), over 50 high-altitude balloons will form a ‘constellation’ across the United States and use video cameras to live stream the eclipse from 80,000 feet.

Recognizing that this eclipse ballooning network is an extraordinary platform for study, David Smith, Ph.D., from the Space Biosciences Research Branch at NASA Ames Research Center, reached out to the eclipse ballooning teams—including the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) team—and requested that “bacterial coupons”, which look like small metal dog tags, be attached to the tops of the balloons’ payloads as part of a NASA experiment.

The coupons will expose safe bacteria, cultivated from dirt, to the stratosphere, which exhibits Mars-like conditions—a cold, dry atmosphere high in radiation levels. The results will aid researchers in developing protocols to respond to Mars-like conditions and will aid in determining how to prevent forward contamination of places spacecraft visit.

The opportunity to conduct an experiment with simultaneous payloads across a continent is unprecedented.

Two high-altitude balloons flown by NASA CTSGC members—University of Bridgeport (UB) and the University of Hartford (UHart)—will carry this NASA Astrobiology experiment aboard.

Each balloon will receive three small aluminum coupons with bacteria: two to attach to the tops of the balloons’ payloads and one that is kept by each group as a control. The prepared microbial samples, weighing less than 5 grams, will be sent to NASA on a small aluminum plate.

Each team is asked to keep a log of their flight and send along any additional information to help NASA researchers use the data, such as flight path, time, and altitudes reached.

This ‘piggyback’ opportunity will allow the 2017 Eclipse Ballooning Project teams to participate in a unique astrobiology experiment conducted across the United States, as it provides NASA astrobiologists valuable insight into understanding how microorganisms fare in near-space conditions

Participants will also have the opportunity to contribute to a publication of the experiments’ results.

“Being included in a NASA experiment and the potential to publish results is an incredible opportunity,” noted UB electrical engineering graduate student, Xuan Zhang.

“Solar eclipses used to mean the gods were fighting; since then the work of many great people have proven why the stars move the way they do,” shared UHart mechanical engineering senior Stefan Keilich. “It is a pleasure to marvel at Earth’s place in the universe. I can do this because NASA CTSGC has provided me this opportunity to observe this cosmic event.”

Hisham Alnajjar, Ph.D., director of the NASA CTSGC, and associate dean of UHart’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture added, “Our consortium is pleased and continually strives to provide these amazing opportunities to students and faculty. Just imagine the excitement of students launching the balloon they built, recording the event, and streaming it to NASA. The opportunity to include NASA’s own research makes the project more interesting for everyone involved.”

To view the live stream of the eclipse on August 21, go to https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream

  

Media contacts:

Leslie Geary, Director of Communications, University of Bridgeport, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu

Meagan Fazio, Director of Content Strategy, University of Hartford, (860) 769-4330, mfazio@hartford.edu

Credit: David Smith, Ph.D., Space Biosciences Research Branch at NASA Ames Research Center
Members of the NASA CTSGC team at a recent balloon test launch