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Big things come in small packages: Rocky team's experiment set f - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Big things come in small packages: Rocky team's experiment set for space on Sunday

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BILLINGS -

On Sunday, a trip to the International Space Station will carry an experiment from right here in the Magic City.

With it, a team of young scientists at Rocky Mountain College will make history when it comes to the Final Frontier.

"We really hope that if this project turns out to work the way that we do that we can actually have an impact on space travel," said Dr. Andy Wildenberg.

That's a tall order for a team from Montana; a chance to trail-blaze a path for mankind in future space flight.

The future is all contained in a box no bigger than a handbag. It holds the experiment  - surprisingly never before attempted - set for travel to the ISS, orbiting Earth for 30 days.

Let's break down the experiment: Earth does well in its ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

But in space, making that conversion doesn't work well.

The team's plan is to grow algae, but not with water.

"We're growing it inside of AGAR," Wildenberg said. "Which is a substance you usually put at the bottom of a petri dish. It's essentially jello. So essentially what we're doing is growing algae in jello."

If it grows in zero gravity, possibilities for use as oxygen, fuel, and food could exist.

Wildenberg says the algae in the jello-like substance should behave better in space than algae in water. In the three years of working on the project, the recipe is primed for success.

In the box, three viles sit unable to move at the more than nine G's of force it will experience during liftoff.

The viles contain the AGAR and algae, which will be stimulated to grow with lights inside, much like a green house. A camera inside will snap photos of progress to update the team.

It's big thinking for such a small package.

After countless hours of experiments, four students and two professors are ready breathe life into the advancement of space exploration.

"It's weird to think that a small town Montana person could do something like this. You don't hear 'Montana sent something to space,'" said team member Ayla Grandpre, who focused on the engineering portion.

Her teammate, Erin Burns, who specialized in the biology side said: "It's finally here and it's kind of a surreal feeling that something, a place so small and so close knit like our Rocky family can actually do something this big. It's kind of a surreal feeling."

The third member, Gereint Sis echoed her teammates sentiments: "For just a small school being part of this and being able to shed light on it, hopefully it allows us to grow with our research community here at Rocky."

"I think this project shows that small colleges working with limited resources can make a big impact on things," Wildenberg said.

To launch the experiment into space, joining Space X payload cost roughly $31,000, which was secured in grants.

The launch is set for Sunday, 9 a.m. Mountain Time.

The team will travel to Cape Canaveral to watch the lift off live.

The forth member, Kobi Hudson, will also travel with the team.



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