UND students win free ride for their science payload into space

A team of UND student researchers won the 2018 Ken Souza Memorial Student Spaceflight Research Competition, and  for its efforts have been awarded $1,000 grant and a free ride into space for their science project aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

The competition, which began in 2016, is hosted by the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) and encourages student investigators to develop and compete original research proposals in the fields of space life and physical sciences.

The UND team, called the “Dinonauts,” was formally announced as the winning team at the ASGSR Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 3.

Co-team leader James Stoffel was there to accept the award. The Dinonauts also comprises co-team leader Lauren Banken and fellow student researchers Sophie Orr, Terry Rector, Marissa Saad, Dario Schor, Feraidoon Bourbour and Eryn Beisner, along with their faculty mentor UND Space Studies Professor Michael Dodge.

UND’s 2018 winning proposal is titled “Dinoflagellates (Bioluminescent Phytoplankton): A Study of Enzyme Kinetics in Microgravity.” The experiment uses bioluminescent algae, called Dinoflagellates, to study the influence of microgravity on biochemical reactions at the cellular level. The knowledge gained from the experiment will complement ongoing research efforts on the effects of microgravity on the human body— specifically skeletal, muscular and cardiac systems, which need to be better understood for long duration manned spaceflight.

Earlier this year, the Dinonauts tested their experiment prototype through UND’s High-altitude Balloon Program, which launches science payloads into Earth’s upper atmosphere using specialized balloons. The prototype achieved a height of more than 90,000 feet and demonstrated the experiment’s baseline capabilities. Using the information from this first test flight, the team will continue to develop their experiment for their project’s upcoming spaceflight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.