Improving Astronaut Performance: Students to Test Their Ideas at NASA

This video, created by Embry-Riddle students, shows a Specialized Tool for Astronaut Recording (STAR) in action.

Not one but two different Embry-Riddle student teams will soon be headed to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab to test technologies they developed as part of NASA’s elite Micro-g NExT challenge.

The Micro-g NExT challenge asks undergraduates to design, build and test solutions to actual space exploration problems.

On Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus, Dr. Ryan Kobrick’s six-person student team will be the only group representing Florida at the Micro-g NExT event in Houston this May. From the university’s Prescott Campus, Dr. Kaela Martin, assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering, will send a seven-person student team in early June. The students from Prescott will make up the only team from Arizona.

The trip to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab promises a unique opportunity, said Kobrick, assistant professor of Spaceflight Operations and head of the S.U.I.T. Lab (Spacesuit Utilization of Innovative Technology). “It’s rare that students make it to the selection round and get to be involved with the testing” of their inventions, he said.

The team leader of the Daytona Beach group, Embry-Riddle junior Nick Lopac, said that when he heard his team had been selected on a live-streamed Facebook announcement, he started jumping and screaming, before texting his teammates that they were going to NASA. He said the opportunity presents a huge advantage in terms of future career options.

“To be able to say that we worked with NASA, the most well-known space agency on the planet, is just amazing for us,” Lopac said.

Expertise in equipping astronauts for safe missions will become ever more important as the commercial space industry keeps growing and NASA plans for crewed trips to Mars, said Kobrick.

I have been able to practice different project management techniques. Plus, I have worked with professionals on how to create and update a design.
Daniela Baroni, student leader of the Embry-Riddle Micro-g NExt team in Prescott, Ariz.

The two student teams are both working on customized mounts for a video camera that would allow astronauts at the International Space Station to video themselves as they perform research activities in different areas outside of the ISS.

The Neutral Buoyancy Lab is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The lab’s main feature is a 40-foot-deep pool containing 6.2 million gallons of water. Divers enter the pool with weights to simulate a micro-gravity space environment. 

At Micro-g NExT, the selected student teams will bring the devices they built, along with operating instructions. A diver will then attempt to use each device while underwater, following the students’ instructions.

Referring to the multi-step process that has brought the teams this far, Daniela Baroni, student leader of the Prescott team, said the experience has already been hugely educational. 

“I have been able to practice different project management techniques,” Baroni said. “Plus, I have worked with professionals on how to create and update a design."

Posted In: Research | Space