April 7th, 2017

Two Cupertino students shine in Mars Medical Challenge

Lauren Lee, 12, a seventh-grader at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, shows off her 3-D printed drug-delivery device that will allow the user to inject any medically needed drug without assistance. Lauren was a winner in the “Mars Medical Challenge” sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation and with support from NASA. (Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer)

Lauren Lee, 12, a seventh-grader at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, shows off her 3-D printed drug-delivery device that will allow the user to inject any medically needed drug without assistance. Lauren was a winner in the “Mars Medical Challenge” sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation and with support from NASA. (Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer)

Two young Cupertino residents have been recognized for truly out-of-this world science projects.

Lauren Lee, 12, has been selected as a junior division winner of the “Mars Medical Challenge” sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation with technical support from NASA. Ansel Austin, 14, was selected as one of four finalists in the challenge’s teen division.

The challenge tasked youngsters nationwide with creating a digital model of a medical or dental device that is entirely 3-D printable and can be used by astronauts on a three-year round trip to Mars.

Lauren, a seventh-grader at Kennedy Middle School, created a drug delivery device, with inspiration from a family member.

Ansel, a freshman at Valley Christian, created the wearable “Flex Brace,” to protect astronauts’ bones.

March 23rd, 2017

Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right). Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right).
Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz

The first explorers on Mars will need a new kind of spacesuit, and a university-based team has taken a novel approach to design the equipment.

Researchers have set up a “collaboratory” at the University of California, Berkeley, to come up with a spacesuit that will allow expeditionary crews to work effectively on Mars.

“The kind of suit that we’re talking about is a blue-collar suit. You’ve got to be able to be out and about on Mars 7 to 8 hours a day, seven days a week,” said project leader Lawrence Kuznetz, a UC Berkeley professor and former NASA engineer with a long history of investigating Mars spacesuit concepts.

About 50 Berkeley students are now taking part in this MarsSuit Project, via a design class that began in mid-January. That core group, Kuznetz said, is one slice of a larger, interactive talent pool that includes the University of Helsinki, Texas A&M University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and students at the Technical University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and at other institutions, along with several NASA centers, nonprofits and private organizations, such as Paragon Space Development Corporation in Tucson, Arizona.

Teams have been established to delve into everything from hardware, soft goods and software to boots, gloves, thermal control and waste management.

“The long-range vision is to have this course semester after semester,” Kuznetz said, “with each semester building upon the work of the prior semester … all intent on maturing the MarsSuit design.”

March 22nd, 2017

Simulated Mars dust makes for weird 3D-printed objects

Copyright Fotec

Credit: ESA

When humans finally get to Mars, they’ll need to use local resources in their quest for survival. Mars has a lot of dust, and the European Space Agency is looking at how to transform it into useful 3D-printed objects. On Wednesday, the ESA posted the fascinating results of a 3D-printing test using simulated Mars soil on Wednesday.

The team 3D-printed an igloo-like structure and a wall corner. They’re sized for a small mouse, but they show that it’s possible to create sturdy objects using the local resources on Mars.

The researchers used a Mars soil simulant called JSC-Mars-1A, which contains volcanic material, mixed with phosphoric acid as a binder. The mixture was extruded through a nozzle and layered in typical 3D-printing fashion.

The igloo and corner won’t win many points for aesthetics, but that’s OK.

March 17th, 2017

Colonizing Mars Will Depend on Low-Tech Know-How

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Colonizing Mars will be no easy feat. It will require billions of dollars and years of specialized research led by some of the smartest scientists and engineers in the world. It will demand advanced technologies, yet to be invented — new kinds of spacecraft, for example, advanced rocket propulsion, deep-space life-support systems and high-speed communications.

But when humans arrive at the Red Planet, their best chances for success and survival will depend on simple materials, low-tech solutions and a broad set of problem-solving skills that will allow people to adapt.

“Here on the Earth, when we go to a remote location to do an engineering development project, we’ve learned that taking high-tech equipment isn’t really the right approach. What you want is appropriate technology,” said planetary scientist Phil Metzger, who is also a co-founder of NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Swamp Works. “You want technology to be maintained using the local resources and local labor.”

December 29th, 2016

Future Mars Residents May Live in a Home Made of Ice

SEArch and Clouds AO

SEArch and Clouds AO

Want to Live on Mars? We have the ice house for you. NASA is crowd-sourcing ideas for future Martian habitats and the leading design is essentially a modified igloo. That’s right, the first humans to inhabit Mars, may reside in homes made of ice.

Last month, a research team from the University of Texas announced that Mars is hiding a secret supply of water just below its surface. They reported that a region on Mars known as Utopia Planitia is harboring as much water as Lake Superior here on Earth — only difference is the Martian reserves are frozen solid.

The ice reservoir is located a mid-northern latitudes — which means it’s about halfway between the equator and the poles — and is reportedly the size of New Mexico. Even though the supply may be buried under a layer of regolith ranging from 3 to 33 feet deep, this finding is still excellent news for a group at NASA’s Langley Engineering Design Studio in Hampton, Virginia.

December 12th, 2016

New Paper Explores Cryptocurrency for Space Colonies


Blockchains in space?

According to one research paper published by an Indian government official, the idea isn’t so far-fetched.

Dr Kartik Hegadekatti of India’s Ministry of Railways posits in a new paper, entitled “Extra-Terrestrial Applications of blockchains and Cryptocurrencies”, that the tech could provide the basis for a space-based money in lieu of paper money or physical coins. Hegadekatti works for the ministry’s Commercial Department.

Hegadekatti has written about cryptocurrencies in the past, exploring how a ‘NationCoin’ could be issued by a country in a paper from August. The paper’s timing is notable, given India’s controversial push away from paper currency and a rise in bitcoin purchase activity in the country.

Though the concept sounds a bit far-fetched and entirely speculative – humans have only set foot on the Moon a handful of times, and to date no manned mission has been launched to Mars – Hegadekatti argues that launching paper or coin-based monies into space is impractical given their cost and weight.

December 6th, 2016

Rhode Island School of Design works with NASA on Mars suit

When scientists are trying to figure out how to live in near-isolation in a dome to simulate a Mars mission, the last thing they’ll need is an ill-fitting space suit. So one of the nation’s top design schools has come to the rescue.

Staff members and students at the Rhode Island School of Design have come up with a new, adjustable suit that closely resembles an actual space suit.

Real space suits are designed to work in zero gravity, meaning they’re too expensive and too heavy to use at the NASA-funded Mars simulation mission in Hawaii. The simulated space suits that are used instead wear out quickly and aren’t all that comfortable. They’re small and provide poor ventilation.

The new suit, unveiled Monday in Providence, is expected to be tested during the next Mars simulation mission in 2017 in Hawaii.

A yearlong Mars simulation mission ended in August. It was the fourth HI-SEAS, or Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. NASA funded the study, run through the University of Hawaii.

November 29th, 2016

‘Diamond-age’ of power generation as nuclear batteries developed

New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.

The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.

This innovative method for radioactive energy was presented at the Cabot Institute’s sold-out annual lecture – ‘Ideas to change the world’- on Friday, 25 November.

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”

September 28th, 2016

Mars awaits: Sydney rocket scientist to test ion drive in space University of Sydney

Return trips to Mars without refuelling could be a step closer, the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico heard today – because of world-leading research from the University of Sydney and the entrepreneurialism of a former student now set to test his invention in space.

The announcement comes weeks after research reporting a world record specific impulse – a measure of thrust efficiency, like miles per gallon – was published by a graduate and two professors at the University of Sydney.

The rocket engine is being commercially developed by Neumann Space, the company set up by Dr Patrick Neumann after the completion of his PhD. Dr Neumann, who was part of an international announcement by Airbus Defence & Space today at the congress taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico, sent a statement about the invention.

September 26th, 2016

SpaceX’s humans-to-Mars rocket gets fired up University of Sydney

Elon Musk/Twitter

Elon Musk’s private space endeavor SpaceX on Sunday conducted its first test of the Raptor rocket engine designed to take humans to Mars as early as 2024.

Musk tweeted about the test, which took place at the company’s McGregor, Texas, facility, ahead of his keynote address at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress on Tuesday. In the speech, titled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” he is expected to unveil the design for the Mars Colonial Transporter, as well as his plan for colonizing the Red Planet.