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Ready for Launch

Ready for Launch
Posted on 12/19/2018
Lakewood High School/Warren Tech students Katee Harrington (left) and Stella Meillon make adjustments to a plant growing chamber for use aboard the International Space Station.There are few science fiction characters more endearing than Guardians of The Galaxy’s Baby Groot. Groot’s creators, Marvel Entertainment, teamed up with The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, to invite high school students across the country to propose experiments that could be housed and carried out aboard the International Space Station.

Students in Matt Brown’s STEM class at Lakewood High School, a class he teaches in partnership with Warren Tech, successfully answered the “Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station” challenge. Their winning experiment involves aeroponic farming in microgravity. In plain English, growing plants, without dirt, in orbit.

“It’s a two-compartment box with a plant growing out of the top compartment and a mister in the bottom compartment,” explained student Stella Meillon. “There’s water in the bottom. It will go into a micropore sponge that will keep the water at a good tension. The mister, which is called an atomizer, will atomize the water up into the roots of the plant and the plant should grow from there.”

“We’ll be able to see how the plants do over the course of a month, whether root rot becomes an issue, which is a big problem because water doesn’t just fall off the roots like it does here,” added Brown.

The work that these students are doing is part of a project that goes back ten years at Lakewood High School. Throughout several of Matt Brown’s classes, students have developed a space-based plant growing system called a hydrofuge that has gone through some improvements, with the atomizer among the newest.

Meillon and fellow student Katee Harrington are building upon the work of previous Lakewood/Warren Tech students who, like these two are about to do, journeyed to SpaceX Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral Florida, to see their creation sent into orbit. They’ll be joined by three former students who’ve moved on to post-secondary lives.

“I never thought that I would be at this point. I’ve always been interested in engineering, but the fact that we get to use our knowledge, and use our hard work and apply it to something is so amazing,” said Harrington. “[I’m] a little bit nervous, we’re just super excited in every way, shape and form.”

The Space X CRS-16 launch in early December was a success, and now the students have moved on to monitoring their experiment to see how well the plant chamber holds up in orbit. All the sophisticated engineering that’s gone into the student device may one day be shared with other schools across the country. Brown says the idea is to make next an “off-the-shelf” hydrofuge that would be available through a non-profit called DreamUp, a provider of space-based educational programs, started by commercial space company NanoRacks.

“DreamUp stepped in and said, ‘hey, what do you think about patenting this?’ ‘Sure, why not!’ A big part of it is programming it, creating a system where you have a touch screen so someone can go in and say, ‘I want it to do this, I want to do that, turn on the lights for this amount of time.’ It’s got to be out of the box, plug and play kind of challenge,” explained Brown.

“It’s neat to step back and watch the excitement and satisfaction, the “hey, look what we did.’ That’s cool,” said Meillon. “It’s unbelievable to realize that all this hard work has been for something.”

See the JPS-TV version of this story here or below.

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