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Engineering: Current Students

Microgravity Blog 2014

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Building up and reaching out

APRIL 2014 - Whew! Time flies when you’re having fun! With more than half of April behind us, our team is deep in the first stage of construction, coordinating outreach at multiple locations, and fine-tuning our project. And, at seven weeks until our experiment is airborne aboard G-Force One, we excitedly await the beginning of ground testing.

Physical frame assembly comprises the first stage of project construction for our intestine simulator headed to Johnson Space Center on May 29. The long list of frame components includes: 80/20 extruded aluminum, exterior sheeting of polycarbonate, interior simulator structure of acrylic, as well as a multitude of bolts, nuts, and caulking. Since many components are uniquely placed to fill a specific purpose, our parts could not be simply bought off of the shelf and installed. We have spent considerable time meticulously laser cutting, drilling, bonding, and otherwise modifying many of our parts to not only fit together but to also exceed NASA’s guidelines for frame strength. After weeks of preparation, measuring, checking, and measuring again we have fabricated all of the unique components to build our frame. Of course, when we engineers meet to assemble really anything at all, we are probably more akin to ten-year-olds discovering LEGO’s for the first time rather than college seniors with jobs and internships planned after graduation. Needless to say, we have been having a blast!

Community outreach and presentations have been high on our list this year and we are not even close to finished yet. On Thursday, April 24 and Friday, April 25 from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. the UNL Microgravity Team will be at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, NE for Nebraska Science Fest. We will be presenting neat aspects and pieces of our project as well as the mechanics of how a slinky and even astronauts move in space. On Friday, April 25 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the UNL Microgravity Team will be at E-Week Open House in UNL’s Othmer Hall. This event showcases the College of Engineering to many high school students and is great PR for our team. On Saturday, April 26 from 9:30am to 4:30pm we will be at Morrill Hall at UNL for Astronomy Day. At these events we will have a booth where students and others can discover what we do, including being able to see and touch the robotic capsule endoscopes, meet members of the team, and learn how astronauts move in space. Clay Anderson, former NASA astronaut and (so far) the only astronaut from Nebraska, will be at this event and he is a great friend to the UNL Microgravity Team.

For our next seven weeks of preparation for flight week at Johnson Space Center, we have several things on our minds. First, we are finalizing a few experimental design elements. Most notably we are working on the addition of a latex wrap for our intestine to counteract the plastic deformation the parabolic flight will have on our intestine. Next, we are entering the world of programming experimental procedure, data acquisition, and simulator coordination for our flight. And finally, in the very near future we will be putting our simulator through the paces to gather performance data.

April appears to be our busiest month yet! But, we wouldn’t have it any other way. #defygravity

Introducing UNL's 2014 NASA Microgravity Team:
Just what the doctor ordered — for astronauts

UNL Microgravity team reaches out to Big Red Road Show crowds

Above, the 2014 UNL Microgravity Team (roster) studies biosensing for astronaut health during extended space missions.

MARCH 2014 - With our first UNL Microgravity Team posting we would like to introduce our team, project, current activities, and plans for the coming months. We hope you enjoy our progress!

The UNL Microgravity Team is comprised of 16 highly motivated undergraduate students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The studies pursued by our group members vary widely in the engineering disciplines: from electrical to biological systems engineering and everything in between. Each of our team members is very proud to be selected for Nebraska’s sixth consecutive year of work with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. We continue to design, plan, build, and test unique projects to further scientific exploration of space.

This year our project focuses on a noninvasive approach to biosensing for astronauts on extended space flights. As space flight durations increase, flight surgeons need to be able to accurately monitor the health of astronauts and we believe the use of internal sensors could be a viable solution. We are currently examining the attach-ability of a pill in the small intestine. Our approach includes modeling the attachment mechanism after internal parasites and using a pig intestine to simulate a human intestine. Our lab work in Lincoln and subsequent testing aboard the microgravity aircraft in Houston will provide data to substantiate this method as a possible solution to more effectively monitor astronaut health during space flight.

As we near our travel date of May 29, our team has been hard at work building a simulator and completing the necessary documentation to fly our project with NASA. Our simulator is constructed from a frame of 80/20 extruded aluminum with sides of polycarbonate. The pig intestine is doubly contained to prevent fluid leakage into the aircraft cabin and has specially designed pressure vessels to replicate the peristaltic movement of an intestine.

Our documentation is almost completed, as we have been hard at work on our Test Equipment Data Package (TEDP): the complete review of all mechanical, experimental and procedural aspects of our project. The next steps of our project development and preparation for flight week are to complete the simulator build and several experimental runs. We will use data from these runs to fine-tune the process and procedure of our experiment.

In the past three months our team has spent time in the community to develop young people’s education and focus in STEM fields and careers. This year we have interacted with wide-ranging groups of youth from grades one through 12; with more than 300 connections, we have reached the largest number of students in the history of the UNL Microgravity Team! Our efforts took us to many different locations in Nebraska including four high schools, two middle schools and a community center.

Our outreach programming was constructed to be developmentally appropriate for each age group. We target our older students with NASA-related career paths including internships, college majors, and information about our team, and of course the rewarding experience and opportunities we have working with NASA. With younger students, we help them with creative engineering activities which the students can build from common items around the house; this includes the all-time favorite: the mousetrap catapult!

While quite busy in recent months, we are not finished yet. In the coming weeks our outreach efforts will take us to E-Week presented by the UNL College of Engineering, Astronomy Day hosted by the University of Nebraska State Museum, and Nebraska Science Festival Expo at the Strategic Air and Space Museum.

Stay tuned for further team updates in the coming weeks!

Important Dates

Flight Week: May 30 - June 7, 2014

2014 Contacts