Three pounds of Domino Sugar will head to space on Wednesday.
The Baltimore refinery and a sister refinery, C&H Sugar in California, are each providing sugar for a cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, Domino Sugar announced Monday.
No, the orbiting astronauts aren’t whipping up a batch of sugar cookies for Christmas. They will use the sugar to grow crystallized rock candy in zero-gravity, while students — including some at Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School in Locust Point — grow it on Earth and compare their progress.
The Crystal Growth Experiment, as the interactive science project is known, was designed by DreamUp, NanoRacks and Xtronaut, which develop space-related science, technology, engineering and math programs for schools.
The rock candy experiment teaches students about the scientific processes of nucleation and crystallization, in which sugar molecules in a saturated solution — usually water — bond together and grow into the hard candy treat.
Domino and C&H, both units of ASR Group, each contributed $25,000 for the effort. Xtronaut also ran a related Kickstarter campaign that collected nearly $22,000 from 41 pledges to support the project and get the educational experiment kits in return.
The kits also will be available for purchase on Amazon and DreamUp.org in the spring, said Abby Dickes, a NanoRacks spokeswoman.
The $25 experiment kit includes access to a web portal for tracking the astronauts’ progress; coupons for $1 off Domino or C&H sugar; wooden dowels for the rock candy to grow on; the same type of plastic bags that will be used on the space station; and a guidebook with experiment instructions.
Domino plans to donate a limited number of kits to a pre-kindergarten class at Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle near its South Baltimore refinery, company and school officials said.
“We support educational STEM programs at schools around the country, so we were thrilled when we were approached with this inventive program that uses our sugar products in a unique way to inspire young students to engage with and learn about science,” said Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of Domino Foods, the sales and marketing arm of American Sugar Refining, which owns Domino and C&H.
Francis Scott Key Principal Corey Basmajian called the project “a great idea” that he said will allow students to see applications beyond the classroom — “about as far as you possibly could go.”
The Crystal Growth Experiment is a way of bringing science to life that fits in with the school’s focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Basmajian said.
“That could be something that sparks kids’ interest later on,” he said. “Anytime you can bring learning alive, it’s a great way to reinforce skills.”
Making rock candy may not sound like the most scientifically weighty project, but the program’s importance lies more in its potential to drum up excitement for science among students, said Frank Summers, an outreach astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
The experiment follows the growing trend of “citizen science,” which encourages amateurs to get involved in scientific research, he said.
“It’s more of a basic experiment, but it has the space aspect, which makes it cool,” Summers said. “The benefit of science to most people is not that they’re going to use the scientific results, but the practice in the critical thinking process that’s involved can be applied to many other situations throughout their lives.”
Liftoff for the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the sugar, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was rescheduled for 11:24 a.m. Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., said Xtronaut CEO Michael Lyon.