To encourage and educate young women in STEM, a recent Raven Aerostar research and development flight carried a special guest to the stratosphere. Barbie® courageously made the trek to space via a Cyclone Zero-Pressure Balloon System to provide a beautiful display of our stratospheric platforms. This was then used to educate 25 Junior Girl Scouts from the Sioux Falls area at our "Solving Great Challenges: Connecting and Protecting the World" event in January 2020. Sara Venhuizen, Engineering Team Lead, premiered the footage of Barbie®'s flight at the event, walking the 4th and 5th graders through the balloon launch, parachute, and recovery process. Afterward, the Scouts engineered and tested their own parachutes in an interactive design activity.
In addition to providing transportation to our famous friend, the high-level purpose of the Raven Cyclone Zero-Pressure flight was to develop and test an internally-developed payload. In preparation for the launch from the Raven Innovation Campus, the Raven Aerostar flight engineering team set up the payload. "They did have a lot of fun with Barbie®," Sara remarked, "making sure the camera filming her was positioned just right, and moving her arm so she was waving, among other things!" Barbie was zip-tied to the side of our flight control unit, and had a couple of extra zip-ties to ensure that she did not lose her bag or watch.
After launch, Barbie® was airborne for five hours. While making her ascent into the stratosphere, the Raven Aerostar flight operations team helped her navigate the vast expanses of the atmosphere. She reached float at approximately 70,000 feet (21.3 kilometers) above sea level, which is about twice as high as commercial airplanes fly.
After she was done with her mission, Barbie® waved goodbye to space; then, the flight operations team began controlled descent. The parachute was deployed, releasing from the balloon. The payload's descent was actively tracked by the team, who followed the path to eventually recover the payload upon landing. Upon recovery, they found that Barbie was in excellent condition. Her shoes even stayed on the entire flight, despite not being tied down in any way!
As a thank-you for recovering our friend successfully, the Raven Aerostar team enjoyed a ton of cookies, delivered courtesy of Girl Scouts – Dakota Horizons.
Mission Accomplished: Encouraging Girls in STEM
At Raven, we are dedicated to the future, investing in STEM education. As an organization who deeply cares about the advancement of science, technology, engineering, and math, we wanted to provide a memorable, one-of-a-kind STEM experience for our young audience. We sent Barbie® to space with one mission — to provide encouragement and education to the next generation. With her bold journey, she accomplished that mission.
The video of Barbie® provides a unique bridge between young girls and the wonders of science, developing critical thinking skills. It provokes thought and curiosity in the minds of students, and ultimately introduces them to the foundations of engineering. Accompanied with an interactive parachute-building activity, Barbie®'s flight served as a launching pad for the students' design ideas, which were further refined by women leaders at Raven. Through unique experiences and visuals, such as Barbie®'s journey, Raven continues to inspire and empower the next generation of learners, scientists, and engineers.
Barbie® is a registered U.S. trademark of MATTEL, Inc.