Getting to NASA was the hard part. We were fabricating up to the night of the flight. And once we touched down in Houston we still had a couple of modifications to make. But since we had told everyone we were going (see below) we couldn’t stop because of a few last minute hiccups.
Our test would be in Houston, Texas at NASA Johnson Space Center in what they call the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. This is one of the biggest pools in the world with about 6.2 million gallons of water. The reason they do microgravity testing here is because when you are neutrally buoyant in water the environment is a lot like microgravity. Currently sitting at the bottom of this pool is a mockup of the entire International Space Station. And three test beds for our tool.
The Boise State team arrived with 8 other university teams who had also put forward proposals and manufactured a tool for an asteroid mission. Though the designs and functions of the tool were different they all were built to accomplish some task on an asteroid geology mission. Our tool is a rock sampling device designed to pick up loose rocks from the surface of an asteroid.
The first day at NASA was probably the biggest ordeal. We had to stand in front of a review board of about 15 engineers and safety experts and defend our tool. If the board did not think the tool was safe we would be required to fix the tool somehow before it was tested by NASA personnel. We had 20 minutes to give our presentation and once we were done the committee gave their enthusiastic approval which was a little different from what some of the other teams were faced. The team was relieved, the faculty that traveled with us were really proud and we were ready to start the test the next day.
The NASA personnel who would be taking our tool in the pool were professional divers. They would swim to the test bed after being briefed by us how to operate the tool. But they would not be testing the tool without us. The whole team was assembled in the test room and one of our team members directly talked and instructed the divers on each movement for the test. A lot like you might hear for astronauts on the International Space Station. You can catch a snippet of the test below.
So our time at NASA was a tremendous success. The Boise State team came and conquered and it was a privilege for me to lead the team. If you would like to read more about this NASA team and see what they will be up to next visit our blog and Boise State page: