Have you ever imagined designing a project for NASA?
A grade 7 student at DLRC, Sifar Jirgale, successfully did. Through a series of steps and guidance from various mentors, he designed a cube that could gauge if the fabric used in astronaut suits was safe against ultraviolet radiation. This cube was selected by NASA and will be flown into the exosphere on a research balloon in September/October 2021!
“Cubes in Space'' is an American competition designed for students with an interest in astronomy. It requires them to conduct or build an experiment that solves a problem that is related to earth or near-earth. The same was broadcasted on the NASA Wallops YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/NASAWallops), wherein Sifar’s father, Mr Vishwesh Jirgale, heard about it and relayed it to Sifar in February 2021. Being an avid and zealous learner, Sifar undertook this amazing learning opportunity in the field of astronomy (something he has been fascinated with) to see where it took him.
First, there was a crash course in what “Cubes in Space” was, where he learnt about the sounding rocket and research balloons that NASA used to launch the experiments. This took 3-4 months to complete, post which he spent 2 weeks designing and creating the virtual image of his cube. Once his cube had been shipped from Virginia, United States of America, he assembled it within 1 week and sent it back for inspection. His initial thoughts were quite in the red, as he did not believe his design would get chosen. However, once selected, his reaction was reversed.
“My first thought was that my cube was not going to be chosen. Most of the students had given a written proposal, while I was assigned to do a live presentation. When I got the mail that my cube was going to be flown by NASA, I felt elated! I also felt proud as most of the materials used in the cube were made in India. So, NASA would end up launching something made in India! I immediately told my parents, and they were also incredibly happy.” - Quote from Sifar.
The cube itself is fairly intricate. Its purpose is to check if the fabric used in astronaut suits is safe against ultraviolet radiation. The main fabric is that of the one used to make astronaut suits - nylon tricot spandex. The cube comprises the 4 faces facing outwards, which are sealed to the lid of the cube. The downward-facing face, or the bottom face, is made of sun-sensitive paper with a badge attached to it that changes color if ultraviolet radiation penetrates it or escapes. This experiment is, thus, one step towards ensuring more advanced level safety for astronauts, hence being quite fruitful. “If more such experiments are conducted, space companies could eventually design a spacesuit which blocks ionizing radiation as well.”
Although this project was Sifar’s brainchild, he did receive some help along the way. The founder and owner of “Cubes In Space,” Ms Amber Agee-DeHart, was a constant pillar of support and helped him throughout the course to refine his experiment at any given time. Except for this, his parental support was paramount. Mrs Smita and Mr Vishwesh assisted in assembling the cube and of course, gave him moral support. He has also been invited to watch the live launch if the situation permits.
In almost 5 months, he learnt and developed a project which got chosen by NASA to further space and aeronautics research. By following his passions, seizing learning opportunities and accepting new challenges, Sifar successfully created a new product that can make ground-breaking progress in ensuring high-level safety to those who explore beyond our immediate Earth’s surroundings. Who knows, maybe the next project will aid those who travel to the deep depths of the uncharted oceans?
Primary source: Sifar