Call for university students to solve NASA’s Lunar dust problem

The Moon’s surface consists of tiny dust particles that attach themselves to almost anything. The dust particles’ abrasive nature causes damage to things such as spacesuits, space apparatus, and spacecraft. Dust particles blocked camera lenses, distorted equipment readings, causes variations in thermal properties, and at times leads to equipment failures. Moreover, the entry of dust into habitats causes glass-like particles to enter into astronauts’ lungs, creating health hazards. Essentially, the future prowess of space exploration depends on developing a mechanism to remove the lunar dust from undesirable places, or even preventing the particles from reaching those parts. 

Through NASA’s yearly Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) idea competition, the agency is searching to find a diverse range of innovative solutions developed by students from various universities or colleges; this year’s idea challenge is themed Lunar dust mitigation. Sub-divisions within the theme are prevention and minimization of dust when landing, dust tolerance for spacesuits, exterior dust removal, and controlling dust inside habitats. The competition judges are required to choose between five and ten ideation teams, each team receiving about $180,000 to facilitate prototyping, performance tests, and illustration of long-lasting lunar dust minimization, or dust resilience abilities technology.

Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s executive at Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), said that the idea competition offers students an unmatched opportunity to become part of the Artemis program; by helping to minimize the effect of the messy problem of the lunar dust. Niki added that the willingness to produce powerful technical solutions that support near-term Moon missions is vital. So far, NASA does not plan to incorporate all the feasible concepts into upcoming space missions.

Great news as NASA announces that its idea competition, the BIG 2021, is accessible to teams with five to 25 undergraduate or graduate students from an accredited U. S. - based institutions affiliated with respective state’s Space Grant Consortium. The event organizers continue to urge participants to collaborate with partners from the industrial sector. 

Mike Kincaid, an administrator at NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, said that the country’s higher learning institutions produce many student talents and idea innovations that bring different perspectives to solving NASA’s challenges. Mike said that the agency anticipates implementing innovative solutions from many student teams, terming the initiative a rare opportunity for students to contribute towards NASA’s mission and further involvement through Space Grant for college and university students.

In summary, competitions such as NASA’s annual BIG Idea Competition are an excellent way for students from tertiary level learning institutions to bridge the gap between academia and industrial skills. Industries can tap into a huge reservoir of tech-savvy minds that are sharp enough to develop innovative products and services that better humankind’s lives. 

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