Students design tools for NASA asteroid mission

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HOUSTON, TX-  Do you know the future of awesome?  Forty eight students from nine universities came to NASA Johnson Space Center to test equipment and tools that they designed, which could potentially be used on asteroids.

"This is the Microgravity Next Program," said Adam Naids, NASA Project Engineer. "This program allows University students from across the country propose design solutions to known NASA challenges. This year we're specifically focused on tools and equipment for geology sampling on asteroids."

Participating universities include California Polytechnic University-Pomona, High Point University, Iowa State University, University at Buffalo, University of Illinois, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, University of South Florida, University of Texas at Dallas and Yale University.

The teams have spent approximately five months designing and manufacturing the hardware.  During a 4-day event held at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a group of professional divers will test the tools and suggest improvements.  NBL is a 6.2 million gallon pool that simulates microgravity, and houses a mock-up of the International Space Station.

"Before astronauts leave Earth and do spacewalks, they come to this facility and spend many hours learning about what the ISS looks like and how to do the tasks they need to perform in space," explained Naids.

Amazing!  We're already making plans of landing on asteroids, benefiting from their minerals and learning from their history.

"We had our testing and our rock-pick was very successful, even more so than we had anticipated," celebrated Manjari Randeria, student at Yale University.   "A lot of the things that we thought would cause problems ended up working really well in the pool. So, the test was great."

That's good to know.  But let's hear it from the divers: the guys doing the dirty work, so to speak, testing the tools 40 feet under.

"We've seen some really interesting tools," said Nick Pavlow, "some great designs that probably we never would have seen without this project coming across our board.  And we've also identified several different ways in which those designs can be improved. On deck we wouldn't have expected there to be certain problems, but in the water obviously the environment changes, and we had to kind of work those problems out real-time."

Certainly, they were very busy trouble shooting.  But students got the best feedback they could possibly dream of.  Also, the divers said they watch NewsFix every day, so we were happy too.  Mission accomplished, Houston!