Students Send Rubber Chicken On a Space Mission (Video)

Last month, in the midst of the most intense solar radiation storm since 2003, a rubber chicken named Camilla reached heights unknown to her breed after high school students from Bishop, California, launched her to an altitude of 120,000 feet. Members of Bishop Union High School’s Earth to Sky student group had equipped Camilla with sensors to measure radiation as part of an astrobiology project. The March “reconaissance mission” will be followed by one in which the students launch a species of microbes to learn whether they can live “at the edge of space.”

Here is Camilla at 119,000 feet, minus 83 degrees fahrenheit and air pressures similar to to that on Mars.

Camilla is the mascot of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. For her March mission, her space suit was outfitted with radiation badges like those worn by medical technicians and nuclear workers to assess damage. The students sent her up (via helium balloon) twice, on March 3rd to assess conditions prior to the radiation storm and on March 10th, when the storm was going on. Here’s the details of her mission via NASA:

During the two and a half hour flight, Camilla spent approximately 90 minutes in the stratosphere where temperatures (-40 to -60 C) and air pressures (1% sea level) are akin to those on the planet Mars. The balloon popped, as planned, at an altitude of about 40 km and Camilla parachuted safely back to Earth. The entire payload was recovered intact from a landing site in the Inyo Mountains.

The payload, a modified department store lunchbox, carried four cameras, a cryogenic thermometer, and two GPS trackers. Seven insects and two dozen sunflower seeds also rode along to test their response to near-space travel. The seeds were a variety known to gardeners as “Sunspot” (Helianthus annuus).

On March 10th, Camilla flew right into “one of the strongest proton storms in years,” when satellites orbiting the earth were sending out proton counts ~30,000 times normal. Throughout the first two weeks of March, sunspot AR1429 unleashed more than 50 solar flares. NASA says that, when the storm reach its zenith, “charged particles hitting Earth’s upper atmosphere deposited enough heat in only three days to power every residence in New York City for two years.”

Camilla’s badges have been sent to a lab for analysis. Fifth grade assistants to the high school team are planting the sunflower seeds to see if, after being radiated, they differ from seeds on earth. The seven insects did not survive the voyage and their corpses are being affixed to a “black ‘Foamboard of Death,’ a rare collection of bugs that have been to the edge of space.”

Science@NASA‘s Dr. Tony Phillips has been mentoring the students. They are also building a small satellite (a CubeSat) to launch in late 2012 and photograph auroras over the Earth’s pole.

Camilla’s mission is a reminder of how it’s possible to teach students about science in innovative ways and, even more, to show kids how studying science really can be out of this world.


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Image from a screenshot of a video uploaded by camillasdo via YouTube


Chad A.
Chad Anderson5 years ago

It is good to get kids involved in real projects they can identify with...

Lilithe Magdalene

Um Christine, they used bugs. I still find that cruel and unnecessary.

Christine Stewart

I am very happy a rubber chicken was used instead of a live critter of any species!

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Why not? Too bad it is not some of the GOP.

John B.
John B5 years ago

Great story. Thanks.

Catherine D.
Catherine D5 years ago

Poor bugs.
They gave up their lives in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Rest their souls.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

That pic looks like a penis symbol. So what is it, penises in space or chickens in space?

Terry King
Terry King5 years ago

Is this the new NASA?

Keevin Shultz
Keevin Shultz5 years ago

How long did the poor rubber chicken live?

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak5 years ago

Times sure have changed. When I was in high school, there were only 85K total species in the world. The bottom of the oceans were cold flat pool table like desserts. Mars and Venus were where there were lush tropical jungles or a habitable desert. Our solar system was the only known planets in existence. There were 9 planets. All the dinosaurs had gone extinct, 65 million years ago. Neanderthals were considered a separate species. Robots were scifi. Satellites were too. Computers did not exist. TV, if you had one, was in black and white and had only three channels. Now high school children are sending rubber chickens to the edge of space to do science experiments that would have been something only a college would attempt. Our futures are looking real good.