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Posted on: July 10, 2020

11-year-old's Experiment Destined for the Edge of Space

Imagine launching an experiment into space on a real NASA sounding rocket... or reaching the edge of space with a NASA high-altitude balloon.

Imagine conducting that experiment at just 11 years of age. 

That is Ruby Demmer’s current reality. The Coon Rapids student entered the global competition, Cubes in Space, for the chance to conduct a science experiment within a four-centimeter cube. Demmer’s proposal was accepted, and now her cube will join dozens more on a trip to near space later this summer.

“I thought it was really cool how kids could put something into space," said Demmer. 

When creating her proposal for the competition, Demmer was inspired by the book “The Martian” by Andy Weir. She decided to test materials that might be used for shelter on Mars. While the idea of sending an experiment into space on a rocket my seem the more exciting option, Demmer realized the high-altitude, zero-pressure balloon was a better match for her interests. 

“They’re going up in a high-altitude balloon and the atmosphere is replicating the Martian atmosphere, because it’s quite similar,” she said. 

Demmer, along with her dad, City Councilmember and engineer Wade Demmer, spent many months researching highly sophisticated materials. They were confronted with several setbacks. The COVID-19 pandemic created delivery and supply issues for some of the materials Demmer had hoped to use. And after consulting with a few material scientists at her dad’s workplace, Demmer realized she needed to rethink her choices.

“They were like, ‘yeah, that’s not going to work very well,’ and we were like, ‘ahhhh!’” she said with a laugh. “It taught me that science can go wrong sometimes.”

In the end, Demmer filled her cube with three sealed pouches made from a chip bag, a Ziplock freezer bag and a Mylar balloon.

“Wow... I did all this research and now we’re using chip bags,” she said with a smirk. 

Demmer mailed her project back to Cubes in Space this week. It will join all the others that were selected from around the world and be fastened to the high-altitude balloon. The launch is scheduled for late summer, but weather and the pandemic both make the flight schedule uncertain. After the balloon returns to Earth, Demmer’s cube will make its way back to Coon Rapids later this fall. 

“It’s going to go up, and when it comes back down we’re going see if there’s any leaks in it.”

Whether her experiment proves to be a success or failure, Demmer is content to have the honor of participating in a real NASA mission.

Cubes in Space is not a NASA program, but an independent non-profit run by idoodledu inc. The program is open to anyone ages 11 to 18.  Learn more about how to support their mission and introduce other students to their STEAM opportunities at cubesinspace.com.

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