23 May 2019
A team of physics students from St Margaret’s is taking part in a UK-wide experiment using chocolate egg capsules to test ideas for technologies that one day could be destined for Mars.
The MARSBalloon STEM Project is an exciting initiative for school students and science clubs to carry out MARS-analogue science experiments without having to put on a spacesuit.
Next month, over a four-hour period, the MARSBalloon will carry more than 100 experiment capsules on high altitude balloons 30km up into the Earth’s atmosphere, more than twice the height of commercial airliners. Along the way, the experiments will be exposed to conditions very similar to the surface of Mars, including temperatures of -50 °C, pressures 1/100th that of sea level and an increased radiation dose.
This will allow students to test the response of electronics, materials, plants and even food to the conditions outside of a future Mars base, helping future explorers to prepare for this strange and hostile environment.
Teacher Iain Garioch said: “The girls in IIS have submitted an experiment which aims to establish whether delicate chocolate with a large surface area will melt from heat generated by the friction encountered upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.
“The idea was to find a suitably light material that is already available and that has a relatively low melting point. Two Kinder eggs were used – one covered in foil to see if that will act as a thermal insulator, reflecting the heat.”
After landing, the MARSBalloon team will recover the experiments, allowing them to be returned to the students for analysis.
Supported by Thales UK, and run by the enthusiastic STEM supporters from Thales Alenia Space, the experiment is now in its fifth year and aims to provide first-hand experience of designing experiments to go into space and visit other planets, as well as to encourage students to consider future careers in the UK space industry.