UND students successfully launch experiment into space

121719.N.GFH.Blue Origin NS-12 - Liftoff-1.jpg
Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle “New Shepard” takes off on Wednesday, Dec. 11, with research payload from UND’s Space Studies Department. (Photo courtesy of Blue Origin.)

NEAR VAN HORN, TEXAS – A team of UND’s space studies student researchers recently assisted with the successful launch into space and recovery of a research project aboard Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin reusable launch vehicle, New Shepard, the university announced in a press release.

The launch and recovery took place on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the West Texas Launch Site near Van Horn.

“We’ve been working hard and many late-night hours for the past year to bring this dream to reality,” said James Stoffel, a UND space studies master’s degree student and co-team lead.

The group's research focuses on dinoflagellates. The experiment uses bioluminescent algae, called dinoflagellates, to study the influence of microgravity on biochemical reactions at the cellular level.

The knowledge gained from the experiment will complement ongoing research efforts on the effects of microgravity on the human body — specifically skeletal, muscular and cardiac systems, which need to be better understood for long-duration, manned spaceflight.


Last year, the student researchers won the 2018 Ken Souza Memorial Student Spaceflight Research Competition, which encourages student investigators to develop original research proposals in space life and physical sciences.

Laura Banken, UND space studies student and co-team leader, said together the team was “able to address complex scientific questions to learn about life processes in microgravity.”

“This research supports the next steps in manned spaceflight -- to the moon, Mars and beyond,” she said in the release.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard system is a reusable, vertical takeoff and vertical landing space vehicle. New Shepard is capable of carrying hundreds of pounds of payloads or up to six astronauts per flight beyond the Karman line (62.1 miles high), the internationally recognized boundary of space.

Banken told the Herald last year, after the team earned its spot on the Blue Origin, that the researchers had to be careful about the type of project it chose because it had to be 1.1 pounds.

With the successful flight, the team is looking forward to the next opportunity to expand its research and knowledge on future long-duration space flights.

“The research we’re doing off the Earth will also benefit our world on Earth and beyond,” Stoffel said.

Pablo de Leon, UND space studies professor and director of the human spaceflight lab, said it is a “rare privilege” for the UND team to fly an experiment with the Blue Origin.


In addition to Stoffel and Banken, other student researchers include Sophie Orr, Terry Rector, Marissa Saad, Feraidoon “Fred” Bourbour, Dario Schor and Eryn Beisner. Their faculty mentor is Michael Dodge, assistant professor of space studies.

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
What To Read Next
Get Local