Students learn about life in space

Clarke Reader
Posted

Not many science groups get their experiments tested in space, but a group of students at Lakewood High School will get that chance next April.

Members of the NASA HUNCH — High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware — has worked for four years to get their specially designed aquaponics system on board the International Space Station.

These Jeffco students are the first Colorado high school students to have an experiment tested on the space station.

“We started this group with engineering students and decided we wanted to do plant research in space,” said teacher Matt Brown. “We built a greenhouse here at the school to see how the plants would grow on Earth before they could be taken to space.”

Brown said that people take for granted all the growing things here on Earth, but in space having the chance to see some new life grow is something astronauts would really enjoy.

Students who have participated in the past four years have helped to build a hydrofuge, which is a personal plant chamber that allows astronauts to grow plants in a gravity-free environment.

“The water needs to be removed from the plants, and we designed a centrifuge to help do that,” said Lea Connors, a 2013 graduate from Lakewood, and member of the group. “All the water wasn’t evacuated, so we needed to come up with another way to do that.”

The result is the bravo chamber, which makes use of a teardrop shaped design, since water will naturally move to the smallest angle.

According to Megan Hofmann, another member of the group who also graduated in 2013, the center of the system is a small fish tank, with an IV bag and pump that pushes the water through the system, from the fish to the plants and back.

Members of HUNCH had an opportunity to travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston earlier in the year and try out the system in a zero-gravity environment.

The project needs to be complete by next spring, and if it is finished in time, it will be taken up to the ISS with other materials the astronauts need.

NASA hosts several summer camps, and members of HUNCH will give two presentations in both June and July via Skype to the campers, talking about the work they’re doing and how it has affected their lives.

For most members, getting a chance to have their ideas taken up by NASA is reward enough in itself.

“It’s been really cool that the stuff I’ve been working on designing has gone to NASA, and they’re working with us,” said C.J. Munch, a senior in the program.

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