Out of This World: Minnesota teens will see science project brought to space

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A group of Minnesota teens spent their summer designing an impressive science experiment, and now it’s ready for takeoff.

Four students from Moundsview and Woodbury high schools have been competing in the same science competitions since they were in the 8th grade. Now, their latest collaboration will be literally out of this world.

While most kids their age are worrying about how to spend the rest of their summer vacation, David and Rebecca Li, Michelle Sung and Aarthi Vijayakumar are working to protect mankind as it explores the final frontier.

"We were really surprised, honestly. We entered the first round on a whim at the last minute. Once we got accepted as national finalists, we were like, ‘we're just going to put everything into this and see where it goes,’" Vijayakumar said.

Earlier this year the four friends joined forces to enter a national science contest called Genes in Space with an experiment that looks at how cells repair their DNA in microgravity. The hope is to prevent astronauts from developing cancer from cosmic radiation.

After beating out more than 500 other applications, the four presented their project at a conference in San Francisco late last month - and won.

“Once you get out of the lower earth orbit, like if you were going to mars or the moon, you get so much more of this radiation - especially on the shuttle, it’s insane. Ideally, knowing these pathways would help you treat that in some way,” David Li said.

As part of winning the contest, the students will get to have their experiment performed by astronauts on the International Space Station. They even received their winning medals from Minnesota native Mark Vande Hei who just returned from a six-month stint on the ISS earlier this year.

"It was really cool. During our presentation he answered questions for us and we were like, ‘an astronaut just helped us, how exciting,’" David Li said.

For now, all four are spending their summer working or interning in labs at the University of Minnesota, but they're looking forward to getting their DNA repair experiment off the ground.

“I don’t think any of us saw it getting to this point, but obviously we're glad it did,” Vijayakumar said.

For the next few months, the students will be putting the finishing touches on their experiment. Then, in February, they will travel to Florida to watch it launch from the Kennedy Space Center.