NASA Asks College Kids to Help It Explore Deep Space

Pratt Insitute

Living on Mars is going to be hard, so NASA is enlisting the help of a group of people who already know how to survive fraught social relationships in cramped, sometimes-toxic living quarters filled with environmental hazards: college students.

The space agency posted an open call for university-based teams to develop new designs for “deep space human exploration systems,” in its 2018 eXploration Systems and Habitation Academic Innovation Challenge, or X-Hab. Essentially, NASA is soliciting student proposals for new solutions to the problems of living in deep space and hostile planets, like solar radiation and, well, dying of thirst. NASA is sponsoring the X-Hab competition to “develop foundational technologies and high-priority capabilities that form the building blocks for future human space missions,” which is a fancy way of saying “get some kooky ideas from bright young minds who may stumble onto something truly innovative.” Multiple X-Hab winners will receive grants of $20,000 to $30,000 each from NASA’s Advanced Explorations Systems division and the National Space Grant Foundation, so there’s a lot of money on the line for space scientists in the making.

It’s similar to another recent competition, where NASA asked third-party inventors to come up with a new design for pooping in spacesuits.

The X-Hab competition’s goals are huge — NASA wants proposals on how to address 11 different major issues that it will face in trying to put humans on Mars and beyond, including a functional Mars habitat that’s standardized both for in-space travel and surface deployment, mobility tests for low-gravity rovers, humidity management, water collection and recovery, autonomous replacement of circuit boards, 3D-printed plant-growth systems, food preparation, and more. NASA’s announcement page for X-Hab has even more details, or you can visit the National Space Grant Foundation’s site for information on how to apply.

Applications for the X-Hab competition are due on April 28th.

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