Mission to the Edge of Space

Met Éireann are delighted to be involved in the ‘Spaceship Earth’ mission, a science project aimed at inspiring students about the importance of STEMM subjects (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Medicine).  The Spaceship Earth mission will involve launching a range of experiments designed by school students high into the stratosphere using Met Éireann weather balloons at Valentia Observatory, Kerry, to examine the effects of near space on the experiments.

Researchers at NUI Galway are leading the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Discover programme in collaboration with  Met Éireann, University of Limerick and Lero, the SFI Research Centre for Software.  Lero’s Professor Derek O’Keefe, Spaceship Earth project lead said: “This exciting Spaceship Earth STEMM outreach project mission aims to inspire and empower students to think big, beyond the horizon and show them that involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine is for everyone.”

The Spaceship Earth project involves launching five high altitude weather balloons from Met Éireann’s observatory in Valentia, Co. Kerry on Friday 2 July.  These balloons will contain a range of experiments and are expected to reach more than 30KM (>100,000 feet) above the earth’s surface, exposing the payload experiments to the extreme environment of low pressure, low temperature and cosmic radiation. After maximum ascent the weather balloon will burst and a parachute is deployed which ensures a safe landing back to earth. The payload is instrumented with electronics such as GPS, data loggers and tracking technology to accurately find its return location. Once the experiments return, students will engage in analysis and discussion about their experiments that will extend and deepen students’ learning.

Charles Gillman, Chief Operations Officer at Met Éireann’s Valentia Observatory said: “Met Éireann has a long history of launching weather balloons at Valentia Observatory, with the first launched in the early 1940’s.  Every day since these balloons have been providing valuable information on current atmospheric conditions that are essential in helping to produce our weather forecasts in Ireland and around the world.

“We are delighted for our weather balloons to play a part in the SpaceShip Earth project and look forward to learning the results of this exciting and inspirational STEMM experiment – it really is out of this world!”

The Spaceship Earth project delivered two space themed workshops to primary school children in Galway, Limerick and Kerry. In these workshops children were taught about the importance of STEMM in our lives and how to ask interesting scientific questions and then to develop experiments to find the answers.  Over 60 student experiments will be launched on Friday July 2nd from Valentia Observatory in Kerry, including mission patch artwork that the school children have made that will be returned to them as a memento of the historic flight. In addition the Spaceship Earth team will attempt to achieve the world record for highest altitude paper plane flight.

Pupils at Scoil Mhuire Oranmare, Galway, who are taking part in the NUI Galway led 'SpaceShip Earth' mission

Pupils at Scoil Mhuire, Oranmare, Galway, who are taking part in the NUI Galway led ‘SpaceShip Earth’ mission

The Spaceship Earth mission included over 300 students in three schools in the west and south of Ireland: Scoil Mhuire, Oranmore, Galway; Scoil Iosagain, CBS, Limerick, and Scoil An Chroi Naofa, Presentation, Tralee Kerry.  Principal Edel Carney, Scoil Mhuire, Oranmore, Galway, said: “Spaceship Earth is one of the best STEMM engagement initiatives I have seen in my career. It makes learning about Science fun and has inspired our students.”

Dr Cornelia Connolly, School of Education at NUI Galway and Lero explained: “This project offers a unique opportunity and not just to research attitudinal responses to STEMM but working directly with the teachers and young people we are introducing and showcasing innovative STEMM projects, encouraging engagement.”

More information can be found at the SpaceShip Earth Project Website: www.SpaceShipEarth.ie