It will be the fourth time since last year that the center has helped put students' experiments into space for implementation. Thousands of young people around the country have taken part in the hands-on program, but only about 50 entries have been selected.
The Pennsauken girls' idea: to compare the rates of bone decay in a microgravity environment and on Earth. The data could be useful to space travelers, Michelle said.
"I was saying, 'Why don't we do something to help the astronauts later?' " said Michelle, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, whose father is a chef.
Neither imagined their proposal would actually fly.
"We thought we would do the project, get the A, and that would be it," said Lacy, whose mother is a clerk in the county sheriff's department.
But last week, Lacy and Michelle were at school in white lab coats and goggles, assembling their experiment so it could be shipped out for its eventual trip to the space station, orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles per hour.
The chicken-bones experiment will be carried out according to the students' specifications by an astronaut, and the girls will perform the same experiment in Pennsauken. The results then will be compared.
Michelle and Lacy's triumph - the bone-decay experiment was chosen from more than 1,100 entries - is really more than one story. It is, to start, the tale of a chance partnership that grew into a friendship.
It's also the story of a nation in need of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals and efforts to enlist the younger generation.
And, not least, the bones' sojourn shows how the once-remote frontier of space has become accessible through technology and the emerging commercial aerospace field.
One of the missions of the program, using commercial space transportation, is to get an array of students engaged in the methods of real scientists.
"We're responding to a national strategy to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers," said Jeff Goldstein, director of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which also helps secure funds for experiments to go to space.
NASA supports many efforts to encourage students to pursue STEM, according to agency education spokeswoman Ann Marie Trotta. What is special about the Spaceflight Experiments program is that the work "is not an exercise," she said. "It's real."
Officials at Valley Christian School of San Jose, Calif., say theirs was the first school, in 2009, to send student microgravity experiments to the space station. Like Spaceflight Experiments, the school works with NanoRacks, a private firm that organizes shipments to the space station.
Werner Vavken, Valley Christian's head of applied math, science, and engineering, said the school could provide other schools a package that costs about $15,000 and includes training plus getting students' experiments into space.
Spaceflight Experiments also is using SpaceX, a spacecraft firm, to rocket the kids' experiments in space.
It isn't just earnest scientific endeavor that motivates the commercial firms. There is the cha-ching of big money to be made.
Since 2001, the Virginia-based Space Adventures has flown seven private people, from businessmen to the founder of Cirque du Soleil, into space for up to $35 million each, according to a company spokeswoman.
Still up for grabs is a seat on Space Adventures' circumlunar flight, which she said was at least a few years away. The price: $150 million. The company also is offering a space-walk experience - for $15 million - for those headed to the International Space Station.
Virgin Galactic, the brainchild of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, has sold more than 500 tickets for suborbital flights into space, which would allow guests to experience six minutes of weightlessness and go from Earth to space and back in two hours. The first flight may blast off this year, according to a spokeswoman. According to its website, $200,000 will guarantee you to be among the first; $20,000 will get you on the waiting list.
Some space-activity observers predict that Bigelow Aerospace, founded by real estate mogul Robert T. Bigelow, may be the first to open outer-space hotels.
Spokesman Mike Gold said the firm would not be opposed to space-tourism opportunities. But of more interest, given microgravity's effect on organisms and matter, is opening a "new world for commercial and scientific research and development," especially in the biomedical area, he said.
"It creates new opportunities for testing that would not exist on Earth without investing more time and money," he said.
Which brings us back to Pennsauken. In the high school lab last week, the girls worked away, attracting quite a show of support.
Michael Ostroff, district science supervisor, had brought the chicken bones, mined from a Boston Market visit.
Superintendent Marilyn Martinez and principal Dennis Vinson were on hand, too, and proud.
So was Lacy's mother, Dori Foat; sister Natise DeBois; niece Makiyah; and best friend, Asia Brown, a rising senior at Camden High. Foat said she wasn't surprised that her daughter had won.
"Lacy's one, if she puts her mind to something, she can do it," she said.
The girls were not shoo-ins when they met in an otherwise all-freshman integrated-science class, which gives a sampling of several sciences and may be taken in lieu of physics.
Michelle, a strong science student who wants to be a nurse, was in the class because she had suffered health problems and physics seemed too taxing.
Lacy, an aspiring biologist, was a new kid and unhappy about it. Just moved from Camden, she was sad to leave the smaller Brimm Medical Arts, a magnet school that seemed more personal. She had taken physics there.
The only juniors in the class, they gravitated to each other. Teacher Peter Woodcock, present to help last week, was impressed by how hard and well they worked together.
"These girls never knew each other beforehand. It was a testament to them," he said.
"You talk about young people making an impact," he said. "This is making an impact on an international scale."
Contact Rita Giordano
at 856-779-3841, rgiordano@ phillynews.com or on Twitter @ritagiordano.