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Lakewood High School students’ invention heading to Space Station to grow food

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LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- A group of Lakewood High School students believe they've found a way to grow plants in zero gravity, and they'll soon get a chance to prove it in space.

The engineering students are taking part in the NASA HUNCH project, which stands for High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware, and on Monday they'll launch their long awaited experiment into space.

"This is like our baby, for all of us," said Trevor Lucero, a senior at Lakewood High School.

Lucero is describing their HydroFuge, a piece of equipment that is designed to store and grow a plant in zero gravity.

"This right here is the beginnings of a basil plant a little older than a seedling," said Clara Wilson, a Lakewood junior.

In three days the students will place a seedling inside the HydroFuge, and then send their baby into space for 120 days thanks to NASA and the help of two sponsors. The students will then monitor the progress of their plant thanks to a small camera embedded inside.

"I should be able to double tap these pictures and see exactly what's going on inside of the chamber," said Ryan Sparks, a Lakewood junior, who showed off the technology.

Watering a plant can be extremely difficult in zero gravity because water essentially sticks to the roots and can suffocate the plant once it loses oxygen. The HydroFuge attempts to fix the problem by pumping water in and out of the plant's growing chamber and then spinning the plant dry with a low speed centrifuge.

"It's designed to kind of fling water off of the roots of the plants," Sparks said.

It's not the first time Lakewood students have given the idea a spin. STEM Teacher Matthew Brown, says the idea began six years ago.

"We started with the centrifuge," Brown said.

Each year since brought a new prototype and multiple tests in micro gravity. Along the way, each team of students passed on their knowledge to others.

"Without them (this team) wouldn't be where they are," Brown said. "Everybody contributed so that's the beautiful thing about this. 100 percent student designed, built and tested."

That's why this year's team is looking forward to seeing the experiment take flight.

"I am really, really nervous," Sparks said with a laugh. "It's just kind of terrifying to see the experiment actually go to the space station because I've been there, we've all been there, things just break occasionally."

But that won't stop any of them from trying.

"We're proving a concept that you can grow food in space," said Joe Tiberi, a Lakewood Junior. "Which is a huge deal."

A group of former and current Lakewood students will be traveling to Florida this weekend in order to witness the launch of their experiment on Monday.

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