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FLOATING A UNIQUE IDEA

Undergrads design, build, and test an artificial gravity spacecraft in a microgravity environment by Meera Chander

If we desire to send astronauts on longer-duration space missions, we must alleviate the health risks associated with extended exposure to microgravity. Our experiment shows that a spacecraft with built-in artificial gravity could be a solution.

A round-trip Mars mission could last about two-and-a-half years, but astronauts who have completed missions on the International Space Station just a few months long have experienced significant adverse effects of microgravity, such as decreased bone density, muscle alteration and atrophy, and visual impairment. Rather than trying to repair the damage post-flight, an alternate approach would be to mitigate or totally prevent the cause of these issues in the first place. Our research team of four undergrads, faculty advisor AeroAstro Professor Sheila Widnall, and two mentors from NASA Johnson Space Center tackled this problem through NASA’s Systems Engineering Educational Discovery (SEED) program. Our idea: provide artificial gravity by spacecraft rotation for astronauts during long-duration space missions. Not only did our team design and build a model of our solution, an artificial gravity test vehicle; we also evaluated it as a proofof-concept through hands-on testing in weightlessness!

DISCOVERING THE OPPORTUNITY SEED is one of the many programs under NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Programs, where student researchers can conduct experiments aboard a microgravity aircraft. During the summer of 2012, I learned of this must-take opportunity from a colleague at my NASA internship. I told fellow AeroAstro student Henna Jethani, and soon we found two other undergrads, Libby Jones of AeroAstro, and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science student Josh Oreman, with

Undergrads design, build, and test an artificial gravity spacecraft in a microgravity environment

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Aeroastro magazine 2013 14  
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