A team of students in the Stony Brook School have created...

A team of students in the Stony Brook School have created an experiment that is packed inside a 4-inch by 2-inch by 2-inch chamber, similar to the one shown here on Thursday. It will be flown to the International Space Station aboard a NASA rocket in May. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Science projects are often a cool thing for students to do, but a group of high schoolers on Long Island are taking their experiment a step beyond: They are sending it into outer space. 

The students at the private Stony Brook School are taking part in a NASA-sponsored program in which their small experiment will be launched into outer space in May on a rocket destined for the International Space Station.

The experiment into growing fruits and vegetables in space will spend a month at the station. The students think their project could be important as efforts to colonize Mars or other places move ahead.

The 10 students who have worked on the project since last summer — including one who does so remotely from war-torn Ukraine as part of the prep school’s online "Gravitas" program and another from India — are thrilled. 


  • The private Stony Brook School’s STEM program is sending an experiment into outer space to the International Space Station in May.
  • It is aimed at studying how vegetables and fruits can be grown efficiently in space.
  • One of the students involved lives in Ukraine and takes part through the school’s online “Gravitas” program.

“It still kind of feels like, ‘Do we really have something that is going up there?’ It still doesn’t feel real,” said Jeremy Lunati, 17, a senior from Coram.

Never tried in space

David Guo, 15, a freshman from China who lives at the grades 7-12 boarding and day school, said he was both excited and nervous because their experiment — tested on Earth — had never been tried in space.

The launch is being facilitated through a San Jose, California-based nonprofit, Quest Institute, which collaborates with NASA to allow high school students to get their experiments sent to outer space.

With their faculty adviser, Stan Winston, back row, left, joining...

With their faculty adviser, Stan Winston, back row, left, joining them, members of the team of students at the Stony Brook School who created an experiment that will be flying to the International Space Station in May are shown in the school's innovation lab on Thursday. The students, from left, are Maya Butkevich, 17, Jason Lu, 13, Jerry Wong, 18, Zsolt Berencei, 17, Wyatt Moller, 15, Jeremy Lunati, 17, David Guo, 15 and Eric Bi, 18. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Students must create an experiment that can fit inside a canister the size of an empty toilet paper roll, said Stan Winston, who oversaw the project as head of the Stony Brook School’s STEM department.

The students design, build and test the experiment themselves, with multiple steps vetted by NASA technicians, he said.

“The main rule of this program is, ‘Don’t kill the astronauts, don’t bring the space station down,’ ” Winston said.

A total of 16 experiments are sent to the space station at a time. Stony Brook’s is set to launch on May 6 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's coast. It will be aboard a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket.

The Stony Brook students started working on the project in late August, and have put in long hours — including during the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

Before the school year started, “None of us thought we’d be sending something with NASA to space,” said Maya Butkevich, 17, a senior from Smithtown.

Each school pays more than $20,000 to get their experiment aboard a space-bound rocket.

Plants grown suspended in air

Quest Institute, located in Silicon Valley, has sent 180 student experiments into space since 2011, said Howell Ivy, one of the group’s leaders.

The participating schools are located throughout the United States and even overseas, including in Finland, Singapore and Indonesia. Stony Brook is the first school in New York to take part, he said. "It’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience for students."

Stony Brook’s experiment is based on aeroponics, or growing plants suspended in the air instead of burying the roots in soil.

It contains a tiny computer that will be activated when the astronauts plug in the experiments on the space station, which has been staffed mainly by personnel from the U.S. and Russia since it was launched in 1998.

Stony Brook’s small capsule also has a balloon with water, a pump, an LED light, plant seeds, and a mister that periodically will water the seeds and roots. A camera will take pictures regularly to measure the growth. Photos and other data will be sent to Earth every three days for the students to analyze.

The experiment in aeroponics in outer space may show it is possible to grow fruits and vegetables there using far less space than traditional agriculture. That could be a big step for colonizing Mars, the moon or other parts of outer space, the students believe.

“It would be so much easier to bring plants into space because you don’t need all that soil,” Butkevich said.

After the experiment is completed, its small capsule should be returned to Earth aboard another rocket. The Stony Brook students hope to encase it for permanent display, like a championship sports trophy.

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