Students from the winning Team FireFly! at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
NASA, in partnership with the Oklahoma State University School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the OSU NASA INSPIRE office, recently conducted a competition among teams of high-school students to help design concepts for a next-generation space habitat.
The challenge was open to all Oklahoma high school students and participants in the NASA Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience (INSPIRE), which is a year-round project designed for students in ninth to 12th grade who are interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers.
› More information about INSPIRE can be found on the INSPIRE Project website.
Twenty-four teams, or a total of 109 students, and their teacher sponsors were inspired by the challenge to design NASA's next-generation space habitat concept. The student teams created 3-D models of conceptual deep space habitats that could support a crew of four for 90-500 days on missions to a near-Earth asteroid or Mars. Each team's model shows how the habitat is transported to space and then deployed for habitation. The teams also modeled the habitat interior including at least one window, an exterior hatch, and airlock with multiple docking mechanisms. The designs allowed crews to transfer from the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to the habitat while in Earth orbit, for the habitat to be serviced at the International Space Station (ISS), and for transit to the mission destination.
Examples of inflatable space habitation concepts were given, such as the Orbital Sciences Corporation's Commercial Space Station, NASA's Transhab, and the Bigelow Aerospace BA-2100 module.
Three groups of student teams were selected as finalists: Team Nerd 5, Team FireFly! and Team Nautae Stellarum. These teams presented their work to NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center. The winner of the competition was Team FireFly!. "Selecting the winner out of the top 3 finalists was extremely difficult. All teams had very innovative designs and did an excellent job in trying to meet the requirements set forth in the Request for Proposal. If we had a choice, we would select all participants that made it to this stage," said Jamey D. Jacob, a professor at Oklahoma State University. Members of Team FireFly! will be visiting NASA's Johnson Space Center to tour the facilities and meet with NASA engineers working on advanced space habitat designs.
Engaging students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) challenges like the space habitation challenge will enable NASA to build a sustainable workforce for the future. The student teams participating in the challenge shared the following comments on their experiences:
"We loved how this project forced us to think outside the box, and how it left so much up to our imaginations. At the same time, there were specific guidelines and goals to keep our project focused. The application was legitimate, so we really felt we were doing something worthwhile. Whether our passion lay in drawing and developing designs, working out life support systems, researching effective materials, or summing up information, we all found our niche and enjoyed this project."
"The best thing about this challenge was the learning process: we learned not only about the space habitats but also about the engineering and design process. Even better, we got to learn with and from each other. It was inspiring to think that we were creating something that could be used to further science and benefit mankind. It is something that goes beyond just us—we could be sending humans to the moon! To asteroids! To Mars! It is the greatest honor to contribute to the expansion of humanity beyond the terrestrial cradle."
"The most exciting thing about the challenge was being able to collaborate with others. That collaboration made many multiple ideas into a cohesive concept. The final concept showed that the team was on the same accord when working together and that the team was able to identify anything that would improve the habitat. The type of specialization in the group was highly conducive to getting the task done. Each team member contributed by making sure to contact other team members and take each member's suggestion into consideration. That mutual respect and work ethic that the team had was the main key to completing the challenge."
The X-Hab competition supports NASA's Deep Space Habitat project in the Advanced Exploration Systems Program.
› More information on the X-Hab challenges at Spacegrant.org