Send Science to Space With Marvel’s Groot and Rocket!

BY: Julia Sable
Date Added: January 09th, 2018

The Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge is now open for submissions until January 31, 2018! This competition, open to U.S. citizens ages 13-18, is offered through a partnership between the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and Marvel Entertainment.

This isn’t the only opportunity for students to try to send experiments to space, but it is unique in the simplicity of its entry process! Most student competitions such as Genes in Space and Student Spaceflight Experiments Program require detailed proposals. But for the Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge, all you need is an idea: a scientific question that could be answered through an experiment in microgravity (weightlessness). It’s fine if you don’t have all the expertise needed to build the whole experiment. If your idea is selected, you’ll get guidance and hardware from scientists and engineers with experience sending experiments to space. They will help you turn your idea into a real flight project!

Each entry must answer three important questions:

  1. What team are you choosing: Team Groot or Team Rocket?
  2. What is your experiment?
  3. Why would microgravity enhance your findings?

The competition entry page has the essential information. Here are some additional thoughts to consider about these three questions:

1. Groot or Rocket?

Experiments for Team Groot should deal with plant biology or regeneration. Experiments for Team Rocket should emphasize materials science or technology development and testing.

2. Your Experiment: Things to Keep in Mind

CASIS, the organization that will send the winning experiments to space, is devoted to using the ISS to enable research and innovations that improve people’s lives here on Earth. CASIS’s mission can be summarized as “Science in Space for Life on Earth.” When thinking about the purpose of your experiment, ask yourself how the science you want to do in space would benefit regular people, the environment, science and industry.

When thinking about the scale of your project, remember that Space Station experiments are extremely compact! Each winning experiment will end up as a little box four inches on a side. It may be small, but a whole mini-laboratory can fit in there!

Team Groot’s life science experiment will be housed in a CubeLab built by Space Tango. Team Rocket’s experiment will be housed in a NanoLab built by NanoRacks. Both the CubeLab and the NanoLab can hold equipment to control the cube’s internal environment (such as temperature and humidity), as well as sensors to take measurements, images, and video of the experimental sample. Each lab-in-a-box has electrical and data connections.

The size limitation of the hardware means that, for example, your plant experiment should not involve full-sized potatoes, but it could use small pieces of potato.

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei prepares to install CubeLabs in the Destiny Laboratory module on the Space Station. The winning experiments of the Guardians of the Galaxy Challenge will be the same size as the grey cube labeled “Go For Launch!” in this photo. Image credit: NASA

3. Microgravity

Ask yourself if your experimental idea really needs microgravity — in particular, prolonged microgravity, meaning weightless conditions that are continuous for days or weeks.

Some experiments require only brief periods of microgravity, which can be achieved on Earth using a parabolic aircraft (a.k.a. “vomit comet”) that provides about 25 seconds of microgravity at a time, or even a drop tower that provides just 2 seconds of microgravity per run.

For example, if you want to make a video of a flame burning in microgravity, you can do it in a drop tower experiment. If you want to see how microgravity affects the way an Alka-Seltzer tablet fizzes in water, you could do it on a parabolic aircraft. You don’t need to send those quick, simple experiments to the ISS. (Anyway, they’ve been done before. You want to imagine something new!)

But if you want to see effects on the rate that a colony of bacteria consumes its food supply, or the way a plant’s roots absorb water and nutrients, you’d want several days’ exposure to microgravity.

How Entries Will Be Evaluated

This is an excerpt from the competition’s Official Rules and Details. Learn more by clicking the link at the bottom of the competition entry page.

Each submitted flight proposal/concept will be evaluated for:

  1. Flight feasibility:  Does this experimental idea need microgravity?
  2. Operational feasibility:  Is this an experiment that is safe to send to the space station?
  3. Hardware feasibility:  Does the proposed experiment have the ability to be conducted within the parameters of the hardware designated for Team Rocket or Team Groot?
  4. Scientific merit:  Which student experiments have the greatest capacity to enhance knowledge of plant biology, regeneration, materials science or technology development?

Are you ready to send science to space? Enter the Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge by January 31!