Students Win Conrad Foundation Innovation Award And Send Nutrition Bar on Endeavour's Last Flight (Update)
Update: NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, STS-134 mission specialist, prepares to eat a snack - one of the Conrad Foundation's STEM bars - on the middeck of space shuttle Endeavour while docked with the International Space Station during flight day 13. Photo credit: NASA S134-E-009702 (28 May 2011) --- high res (1.4 M) low res (105 K)
Shannon and Mikayla Diesch
For Mikayla and Shannon Diesch seeing a shuttle launch in person and knowing that something you created was going into space on Space Shuttle Endeavour was the culmination of a year and half adventure. It's an adventure that led the high school students from entering an education contest through to becoming budding young entrepreneurs.
The Battle Creek natives adventure started in the summer of 2009 when the Conrad Foundation opened registration for the 2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards. The Conrad Foundation is a non-profit science-education and entrepreneurship advocacy organization. The Spirit of Innovation Awards challenges students to create product concepts in specific fields of interest that can be taken to the commercial marketplace. The sisters didn't learn of the Conrad Foundation and the awards until October of 2009. It was then that Shannon thought the sisters should enter the contest along with other students from their school. Mikayla was reluctant at first but eventually came around.
They decided to enter the space nutrition category and create a nutrition bar which they named "Solar Flare: The Star Bar". The original team consisted of the sisters, Ethan Rutherford and Naomi Joseph. On the weekend of April 10th, 2010 at the Spirit of Innovation Awards the team learned they had won. But the road to winning was not easy. Creating a nutrition bar was not easy. Although NASA provided guidelines, coming up with a recipe that met the strict nutrition standards and tasted good took a lot of effort. According to Mikayla "It was really hard because when we did the competition they gave us this nutrition template that we would enter all our information and it would tell us, how much like, if it fit the requirements, and we didn't figure out how to use that until about two weeks before the deadline, so we had to completely, at two weeks, we had to completely restart our bar and we already had 3 or 4 weeks already put in on it."
The STEM Bar packaged.
The result, a cranberry apple cinnamon nutrition bar, obviously impressed the judges as the team won. Not content with winning a 2010 Spirit of Innovation Award the girls then decided to press onward to further develop the nutrition bar concept. This was to further inspire their peers to continue studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Math known as STEM education. Both girls also attended the Battle Creek Area Math and Science Center to further their science education along with their regular high school. The result of this extra work was the creation of their follow-on nutrition bar they call the STEM Bar.
The Conrad Foundation who were still in contact with the girls wanted to see if they could get the STEM bars on a shuttle flight to the International Space Station. They contacted the NASA office of Education. Former astronaut Leland Melvin had just become the Associate Administrator for the Office of Education in October 2010. He had previously been co-manager of NASA's Educator Astronaut Program while he was still an active duty astronaut. Through his efforts and with a push from the Conrad Foundation the girls found out that their STEM Bars would indeed fly on the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
On May 16th the girls were at the Kennedy Space Center and watched the shuttle launch with their bars onboard. Oh, and the bars, well prior to launch the girls were told that some astronauts had tried the bars and liked them. Whether the snack will be eaten on-orbit is yet to be determined. That's up to the astronauts. But for this correspondent who was offered a sample, I'm of the opinion the bar is delicious. And having passed NASA's rigid nutrition guide, it's also healthy.
What's next for the girls? Well they aren't quite sure themselves. Continuing to push STEM education seems a priority to them but otherwise they don't quite know. Mikayla is a junior while Shannon is a freshman. But one thing appears obvious, these girls have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and their future looks bright.
The STEM Bar slightly reshaped by travel.
A short time before they donned their Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuits, NASA astronauts Michael Fincke (left) and Andrew Feustel, both STS-134 mission specialists, ate breakfast snacks (COnrad Foundation STEM bars) onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Once outside the orbiting complex, Fincke and Feustel coordinated their shared activity with NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff (out of frame), who stayed in communication with the pair and with Mission Control Center in Houston from the shirt sleeve environment inside the ISS. Photo credit: NASA S134-E-008462 (22 May 2011) --- high res (1.4 M) low res (95 K)