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Future NASA Missions Spark Out-of this-World Ideas

Future NASA Missions Spark Out-of-this-World Ideas

Researchers Matt Simon, left, and Erica Rodgers look over a prototype Multigenerational Independent Colony for Extraterrestrial Habitation, Autonomy, and Behavior health (MICEHAB) habitat module.

Researchers Matt Simon, left, and Erica Rodgers look over a prototype Multigenerational Independent Colony for Extraterrestrial Habitation, Autonomy, and Behavior health (MICEHAB) habitat module.

It takes all sorts of innovative concepts — some might even say wild ideas — to get humans to another planet.

Thousands of engineers and researchers are in the middle of tackling that challenge now as NASA works to send a crew to Mars in the 2030s. There are all sorts of technical hurdles to overcome that take some creative thinking — whether it’s developing lightweight, flexible inflatable spacecraft heat shields to be able to land more mass or designing a robotic grappling arm to capture an asteroid.

Those are a couple of ideas imagined and championed at NASA’s Langley Research Center that are now being worked on for possible use in future missions.

“In our branch we are encouraged to come up with far-out ideas that could help advance space exploration, ” said researcher Erica Rodgers. “There is even an innovation fund set aside every year to promote this kind of brainstorming and collaboration with our colleagues and students.”

Check out the official article:

Watch the MICEHAB Video:

SACD/NIA Host Another Successful RASC-AL Competition

SACD/NIA Host Another Successful RASC-AL Competition

University Students Win NASA/NIA Space Engineering Design Contest

Future astronauts may someday explore Mars using winning concepts from NASA’s 2015 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Competition.

Sixteen teams competed in the contest sponsored by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), which challenges graduate and undergraduate students to solve real-life space exploration challenges. This year, the competition asked teams to develop a mission with innovative approaches and new technologies allowing astronauts to be less dependent on resources transported from Earth.

The teams presented their research and designs for full-scale mission plans before industry and NASA judges during a three-day forum June 14-17 in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

“Some of the teams had ideas that NASA might be able to use as we venture out beyond low-Earth orbit,” says Pat Troutman, Human Exploration Strategic Analysis lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “The judges and I were impressed by the students’ engineering skills and innovative thinking.”

The top overall honor went to students from the University of Maryland, College Park, who presented a space architecture using the moon as a fueling stop for Mars-bound spacecraft by creating fuel from lunar surface materials. The team also placed first in the undergraduate division.

Students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida, claimed second place and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, placed third. Both of these schools presented entry, decent and landing concepts for a pathfinder mission to demonstrate placing a 20 metric ton payload on the surface of Mars. The student team from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, placed first overall in the graduate division.

The two top overall finishers will present papers detailing their research at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Conference in Pasadena, California, in September. NASA will provide a cash award to help offset travel expenses.

The teams developed their mission focused on one of four themes that could allow astronauts to be less dependent on resources transported from Earth: Earth independent Mars pioneering; Earth independent lunar pioneering; Mars moons prospector and large-scale Mars entry, descent and landing. Deep space missions like the journey to Mars will require humans to travel for long periods of time and to live and work independently from Earth, without the frequent resupply shipments. That means understanding the impact of utilizing resources both from the moon and Mars, and figuring out if their use is viable will be critically important to sustainable human exploration.

By participating in this design competition, which is sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Space Exploration Division (AES) at NASA Headquarters and the Space Mission Analysis Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center, students receive real-world experience that parallels current NASA human space exploration mission design planning and may augment future NASA missions.

For a complete list of teams and more information about the RASC-AL competition, visit:

For more information about the National Institute of Aerospace, please visit:

For more information about NASA’s journey to Mars:

Pat Troutman and Dan Mazanek Speak to CNU LifeLong Learning Society

Pat Troutman and Dan Mazanek Speak to CNU LifeLong Learning Society


Video YouTube Link:

Members of the Christopher Newport University LifeLong Learning Society nestled into a once-antiquated dairy barn on Sept. 11 to begin their journey into the past, present and future of human spaceflight.

It was just the beginning of a five-part lecture series called “America’s Human Space Exploration.”

Located at the Yoder Barn Theatre in Newport News, Virginia, engineers from NASA’s Langley Research Center in nearby Hampton spent 75 minutes exploring the ins and outs of America’s vision for pioneering deep space.

Society members learned how NASA plans to take astronauts into deep space, including how to capture an asteroid in the 2020s. Asteroid retrieval allows the development of technologies for planetary defense and increased spaceflight experience to prepare for missions into deep space.

“We are doing something that is so exciting that it compels inspiration in other people,” said Steve Sandford, director of Langley’s Space, Technology and Exploration Directorate.

“This deep space program is so hard to do that we have to invent new machines and technologies,” Sandford said. “That’s what generates international leadership and drives our national economic engine providing returns

NASA engineers Pat Troutman, left, and Dan Mazanek, right, speak to members of the Christopher Newport University LifeLong Learning Society about America’s vision for pioneering deep space during a five-part lecture series called “America’s Human Space Exploration.”

on our investments we can no longer afford to delay.”

Each lecture carries a similar theme:

  • Path to Mars and Asteroid Redirect Mission: The first Step – Sept. 11
  • The Next Human Spacecraft: Orion and the Launch Abort System – Sept. 18
  • Escaping Earth’s Gravity: Space Launch System – Sept. 25
  • Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing with Humans – Oct. 2
  • Spacecraft, Habitats and Radiation Protection – Oct. 9

The second and third lectures will describe the new U.S. space transportation system.

Members will learn about Orion, America’s next generation spacecraft that will carry humans into deep space, including planetary destinations like an asteroid and Mars. The spacecraft will be used to carry astronauts safely to and from space, while providing launch abort capability in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Orion’s first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1, will launch Dec. 4 and carry an unmanned spacecraft 3,600 miles into space, testing Orion’s critical safety systems and preparing it for crewed missions.

The Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket designed to be bigger than the Apollo era’s Saturn V, will carry Orion to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. Generating up to 20 percent more thrust than the Saturn, SLS will be capable of carrying many tons of cargo, equipment and explorers into deep space.

The fourth and fifth lectures will give members a glimpse into the two most difficult problems for getting humans to Mars and back: descending through the treacherous atmosphere of Mars to land on its surface, and protection from space radiation.

Sasha Congiu
NASA Langley Research Center

Pat Troutman Talks Challenges of Human Space Exploration

Patrick Troutman

Patrick Troutman is thinking ahead — way ahead.

Someday, he says, Earth will become uninhabitable. Whether it’ll be the fault of humans, an asteroid or a dying sun he doesn’t know.

What he does know is that we should already be doing something about it.

“Eventually we’re going to have to get off this planet,” he said. “If you ever want ‘Star Trek’ to become a reality, you’ve got to start thinking about it now. You’ve got to start taking risks.”

Troutman, a senior systems engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, was the speaker Jan. 17 for the conclusion of the National Institute of Aerospace’s 10th anniversary lecture series.


NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge Seminar – Dan Mazanek

NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge Seminar – Dan Mazanek

A variety of strategies have been proposed to deflect a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) from impacting the Earth, ranging from slow-push techniques (e.g., gravity tractor, ion beam deflection, and laser ablation) to impulsive techniques that impart a rapid momentum change (e.g., high-speed kinetic impactors and nuclear detonations). Altering the NEA’s trajectory early minimizes the required change in velocity (ΔV). This is particularly true for NEAs that are an immediate threat because the required ΔV can increase by several orders of magnitude during the final months before impact. Additionally, deflection strategies need to be effective against a wide range of physical characteristics.

NASA Develops Additional Concept for Asteroid Redirect Mission

There’s a plan A, and then there’s a plan B. Or in the case of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, there’s a concept, and then there’s an additional concept.

After all, there is more than one way to find, capture and relocate an asteroid from deep space into the Earth-Moon system.

A study is underway to develop an additional mission concept for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, and Dan Mazanek, a near-Earth object (NEO) expert at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is taking the lead. During Langley’s September Colloquium, he discussed concepts for the current and alternate missions.