In 2015, a second grade class in Indiana curiously asked whether fireflies would still glow if sent into space. After doing some research, their teacher, Maggie Samudio, figured out that for just half the cost of the school’s football uniforms, they could actually send a rocket to space and find out.
Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeff Bezos, sells a suborbital spacecraft launch space for just $8,000, so Samudio embarked on the journey to let her class of seven year olds experiment with real space exploration.
The project was no quick feat. It took two years to raise the funds in which Samudio brought in aeronautical engineers to teach her classes about the flight, propulsion, and firefly chemistry.
Finally, in 2017, the apparatus measuring 4 inches square by 8 inches tall was loaded into the New Shepard rocket and sent into orbit above West Texas. Although it did not contain actual fireflies, it did contain glow-creating substances that chemically replicated the bugs and a small camera to observe its glow in space. Two days later, the box was back in the classroom for student analysis. The verdict? Fireflies would glow in space if they were to ever get there.
The experiment was momentous for Cumberland Elementary School where Samudio teaches, but it will also be forever commemorated by the entire state of Indiana. In 2018, Governor Eric Holcomb visited the school and signed a bill officially making the native Say’s firefly Indiana’s state insect.
The International Space Station recently celebrated its 20th birthday and while expanded space exploration has had tremendous implications for our understanding of our planet and galaxy, it has also afforded opportunities for some of the world’s youngest minds to reach new heights of exploration and critical thinking.
Image Source: Blue Origin