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4-H youth space dream becomes reality

krish nangie poses in front of NASA statue

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Dreams do come true, and for one Illinois 4-H youth, that day came March 14 as Krish Nangia of Naperville witnessed an experiment he helped create launched into space from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The dream started in 2022 as 4-H youth from four states competed to launch real-world space missions at the “Go For Launch” event at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex July 12-14 through the non-profit group Higher Orbits.

Delegates to the competition had served as Space Ambassadors in their home states, exploring a comprehensive STEM initiative called “4-H in Space.” Delegates were chosen through a rigorous selection process.

DuPage County 4-H member Krish Nangia represented Illinois in the winning multi-state foursome, “Team Space Goats,” with other 4-H members from Arizona, Florida, and Indiana. Students were encouraged to design an experiment with sustainability in mind, because of the plan to one day voyage to go Mars when astronauts will be required to bring everything for the months-long trip with them.

“I did what we thought was daunting and nearly impossible at first: winning,” says Nangia. “It was a tough competition, but I am proud to be representing Illinois in the winning team. As a result of our win, our project was launched to the International Space Station. What was once a small, rough idea that was developed in a matter of three hours has now been sent to space.”

The team’s winning experiment, “Growing Spirulina in Space,” focused on growing blue-green algae in microgravity conditions. The team constructed sealed containers filled with water and a small amount of the blue-green algae. Following the launch, astronauts on the International Space Station will be able to monitor the bacterial growth through cameras placed above the sealed containers. These growth rates will be compared to controls that are under similar conditions on earth with the goal of feeding astronauts in future expeditions. According to Nangia, spirulina is an edible biomass found in bodies of water, like lakes. It helps maintain a healthy immune system, is high in protein, and assists in the process of producing oxygen. 

In order to make the experiment space-ready, Nangia’s team worked with Space Tango's CubeLab, a space research and development manufacturing company based in Lexington, Ky., with the company serving as a payload integration partner. CubeLab is an automated hardware standardized platform designed for science investigations in microgravity. 

“After we won the contest, Higher Orbits connected us with the representatives from the company where we were able to share a synopsis of our experiment idea with them,” says Nangia, currently a student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “From there, they proceeded to build the experiment and updated us on every milestone of the project and asked for our feedback.”

On March 14, SpaceX’s 27th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with the team’s experiment in tow, turning a dream into a reality.

“Dreams do come true,” says Nangia. “Last week, not just one dream came true, but multiple. I’m so glad students like me are empowered in actually accomplishing dreams that are out of this world. This is one of my biggest accomplishments of my life.”

Nangia credits his 4-H experiences, like 4-H Teen Science Ambassadors, for helping him find STEM opportunities and gain skills needed to be successful. “Leading a team, collaborating with a team under pressure, that is something that I would have never seen myself doing even a few years ago,” said Nangia.

Illinois 4-H programming encourages youth to start with positive youth development experiences in their home counties, and also provides opportunities to state and national experiences.

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. 4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools, and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

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