by Steven Siceloff for KSC News
Kennedy Space Center FL (SPX) Mar 29, 2017
Some of the newest tech that will make living on other worlds possible may come in part from research and imagination of college students working with NASA through a project called X-Hab that is entering its seventh year fostering cooperation between the space agency and universities around the country.
Short for eXploration Systems and Habitation Academic Innovation Challenge, the X-Hab challenge series represents one of several platforms NASA leverages to solicit external solutions to complex challenges to keep humans healthy and productive in deep space.
Universities submit their ideas and the proposals are reviewed and selected by technical experts at NASA. From there, NASA mentors the team through a process that parallels NASA's engineering processes. The researchers and students complete their designs for thorough evaluations by NASA engineers.
"We are tapping into the creativity and innovation that's in academia," said Tracy Gill, Technology Strategy manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The X-Hab grants span the agency's field centers allowing schools to deal directly with NASA researchers in their specialties. At Kennedy, students from Ohio State University toured the research laboratories of NASA's Veggie project.
Gioia Massa, Veggie project scientist, showed the students the enclosures and processes used to grow lettuce, cabbage and zinnia flowers on the International Space Station and shared the goals for the Advanced Plant Habitat to expand plant research on the station.
The students are developing methods to better distribute water to the plants in weightlessness and processes for recycling old plant matter in space to make nutritious beds for new seeds to sprout inside.
Both are important aspects for NASA, because astronauts on deep-space voyages will likely farm some of their own food. The technology the students come up with may become the machinery astronauts take with them on a mission.
"This is the first real experience with hands-on research that will actually be used, so just being able to know I will have some actual impact with my research is super cool," said Usoshi Chatterjee, a senior food engineering student at Ohio State.
Kennedy also is looking into a project for next year's round to develop devices to be used on a robotic prospector mission to the moon to measure the amount of water condensed. Other centers are working with teams to come up with systems and methods in a range of areas from 3-D food printing to habitat on Mars or the moon, to handling trash safely.
Peter Ling, an associate professor in Ohio State's Food and Biological Engineering Department, said the payoff for him is the enthusiasm his students show in taking part in the work.
"This is the third year I've been doing it and I think what I find most rewarding is when you see the students light up when they see the project," Lee said. "When they see their concept realized by NASA, they get very excited and that makes me excited."
X-Hab is sponsored by Advanced Exploration Systems, a division in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. AES pioneers innovative approaches through academic, industry and international partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.
AES develops strategic partnerships and collaborations with universities to help bridge gaps and increase knowledge in architectural design trades, capabilities, and technology risk reduction related to AES activities.
Additional challenge support and funding for Veggie and the Advanced Plant Habitat are provided by the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division.
Kennedy Space Center FL (SPX) Mar 30, 2017
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