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Mace & Crown | March 19, 2018

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ODU Juniors Building Tools for Outer Space

ODU Juniors Building Tools for Outer Space
Jason Kazi
Staff Writer

After finding out about NASA’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams Challenge, (Micro-g NExT) junior mechanical engineering students Alec Ferley, Ian Haskin, Nathan Sivertson, Dana Lambert and Andrew Hibbs decided they were up to the challenge of building a tool potentially helpful to future astronauts.

The team was given a choice of five challenges and ultimately chose to build an anchoring device, which could be used on the sandy, dusty surface of an asteroid. If successfully designed and built, an astronaut would be able to attach one end of the device to the surface and the other end to, well, anything.

outer space

Junior Mechanical Engineering students Alec Ferley, Ian Haskin, Nathan Sivertson, Dana Lambert and Andrew Hibbs in front of Rollins Hall. Photo by Jason Kazi

“The goal is to inspire other students to create a consistent team on a yearly basis. ODU is covering part of our expenses. We are in the process of getting the travel funding approved,” Ferley said. “We are working with Dr. Robert Ash, a professor and eminent scholar of mechanical and aerospace engineering here at ODU. He is our faculty adviser and has a lot of experience working with NASA.”

Prior competing in the challenge, the team had to submit a proposal exceeding 40 pages. The judges were particularly interested in their proposal because of the use of an epoxy, a cement-like mixture, as part of their anchor. When the epoxy mixes with water, it solidifies within thirty seconds.

The team has benefited from their enrollment at one of the highest-ranking engineering schools in the state.

“Our skills from classes have been quite helpful for the project. We’ve used programs like Inventor and AutoCAD to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional renderings of what we are trying to design. We’ve used MATLAB to calculate the different characteristics we are looking for and the dimensions of the anchor. We’ve used skills and knowledge obtained from our physics and basic engineering courses, as well,” Ferley said.

The team will be testing their equipment at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas next month. The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory is a 40-feet deep pool where astronauts train for spacewalks.

The tools designed for Micro-g NExT address the authentic, current space exploration problem of asteroid sample collection for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. This mission involves humans visiting a portion of an asteroid, which will be brought into lunar orbit. Upon successful testing, the student-designed tools could be used by astronauts for future training as NASA prepares for the mission.

While Haskin is the only group member with experience with NASA, all of the group’s members hope to work for NASA one day.

outer space

Alec and his team working on a model of the anchor at Perry Library. Photo by Alec Ferley

“I would love to work for NASA because they have a history of innovation that they’ve started, and it’s really cool to be a part of that legacy. SpaceX, like what Elon Musk has started, is getting really interesting because I’ve always thought that private sector innovation can if not outpace government projects, definitely challenge it,” Ferley said.

Other regional schools participating in the challenge include University of Maryland at College Park, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University.

Micro-g NExT is managed by the Johnson Space Center Office of Education. The program helps support the agency’s education policy of using NASA’s unique missions and programs to engage and encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

To learn more about Micro-g NExT, visit:

For information on ODU’s design team through social media updates, follow: Big Blue Crew: ODU Micro-g NExT Team on Facebook.