The two winners of our NASA competition - Rainbow Lo of Ursuline High School, Wimbledon; and Joe Campion of King Edward VI Sixth Form College, Nuneaton spent 10 days in the Black Rock desert, Nevada helping a research team launch their experiment to look for life in the upper atmosphere.
Rainbow and Joe worked with an astrobiology team formed on NESTA's Crucible programme, which encourages scientists from different disciplines to collaborate on research projects. The expedition was also designed to show how crucial off-curriculum educational experiences can be in developing the skills and interests of young people and creating the innovative individuals we need for our future prosperity.
The project was part of the Clotho Project; a collaboration between NASA, several other research institutions and the Mavericks Foundation who developed and launched the high power rockets. The device was designed to collect and analyse DNA traces in an air sample captured at high altitude. The presence of microbes, if present in such environments, would be detected and ultimately the team hope to understand how such organisms might have evolved to survive these harsh conditions.
Together with the UK research team supported by NESTA, the students launched the device on a high altitude balloon and assisted the Stratofox recovery team in its tracking. They then assisted with the rocket launch built by the Rocket Mavericks. The rocket reached an altitude of 28,000 feet but unfortunately, due to problems with the parachute system, the device was damaged on landing and the team were unable to recover any samples.
Whilst Rainbow and Joe were disappointed at the result of the main experiment, they did collect results from their own experiments, capturing daily air samples at ground level and building up a profile of the microbe count in the Black Rock Desert. They also took air samples at several local hot spring sites which, with high temperature and UV levels, may be home to microbes or 'extremophiles' with similar properties to those thought to exist in the upper atmosphere.
Joe and Rainbow gained experience of creating their own experiments in the field and dealing with the real hurdles that occur in all scientific research. They did all this whilst camping in the sizzling desert heat and working through the occasional 70 mph sand storm.
Read the entries from Joe and Rainbow's blog.
Find out more about the scientists who lead our two winners on this expedition.
Joe and Rainbow created a video blog to share their experience of the expedition.
Watch the video