Ronni Oron (right) got to meet NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams at the International Space Conference in Jerusalem Ronni Oron (right) got to meet NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams at the International Space Conference in Jerusalem Ronni Oron (right) got to meet NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams at an international space conference in Jerusalem. (Photo: Courtesy ISA)

Teenage girl invents tool for producing oxygen in outer space

Science-altering device could make life on Mars possible.

Whether we're watching movies like “The Martian” or “Gravity” or “Apollo 13,” we've all discovered one basic tenet of life in space: Breathable air is hard to come by. That's why we see those ubiquitous space helmets connected to oxygen tanks.

Well, an eighth-grader in Israel may have just figured out an alternative.

13-year-old Ronni Oron invented a satellite dish that can, in theory, produce oxygen in outer space. Her discovery landed her the winning spot in the “Satellite Is Born” competition sponsored by the Israel Space Agency (ISA).

We caught up with the precocious teen on her cell phone after school one day. She warned us that our interview couldn't be too long because she was on her way to play in a tennis match. "I have a busy life, I guess," she said with a laugh.

So how did she take the news of winning the space competition? "I think every glass around the neighborhood broke from the vibration of our screaming," she told From The Grapevine. "Me and my mom were screaming so hard. It was so crazy."

A screenshot from the video that Ronni Oron submitted for the contest.A screenshot from the video that Ronni Oron submitted for the contest. (Photo: YouTube)

The ISA has put a lot of effort behind a space education initiative to get elementary and middle school students interested in STEM subjects. Itai Levy, a consultant on education and community outreach for the ISA, thought that teenagers would offer a more creative approach than veteran scientists. "The fact is they have a much more wide imagination and are much less limited by restrictions," he told From The Grapevine. "They can let their imagination go wild."

So how does Oron's invention work? "The idea was to send a satellite that would provide an environment for the growth of seaweed. It would get energy from sunlight and it would be in a climate-controlled bubble," Levy explained. "The seaweed would take carbon dioxide from that controlled environment and would make oxygen out of it. So it would show how oxygen can be produced in atmospheres that don't have oxygen in it."

If the teenager's satellite system works, it could pave the way for future manned missions to Mars and eventual colonization of the Red Planet.

More than any other time in recent memory, travel to Mars is looking more like a reality.More than at any other time in recent memory, travel to Mars is looking like a reality. (Photo: Aphelleon/Shutterstock)

Oron follows the lead of more experienced scientists from Israel who entered into a partnership with NASA and will be assisting the U.S. space agency on their Mars missions. Israeli space technology is known for being extremely light in weight. Indeed, a team of Israeli engineers is currently constructing a dishwasher-sized spacecraft that's headed straight for the moon.

Oron, who met with American astronaut Sunita Williams on a recent trip to Israel, isn't sure what she wants to be when she grows up. "Im only 13," she told us. "I guess I have some more time to think about it, don't I? I don't know. An astronaut, a singer, a doctor. I have no idea. I've been asked that question so many times and I don't have an answer." She paused. "It's a problem."

For winning the competition, Oron will receive a weeklong trip to space camp at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida this summer where she will further develop her satellite.

So what's next for her? That’s easy, Oron said before we hung up. "We might be planning to go to Disney World after space camp," she revealed. "So I'm very excited about that."

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