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Boise State Team Will Test Asteroid Tool at NASA

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 3:40 pm / February 16, 2016

Photo of MicrogNExT logoA Boise State University Microgravity Research Team has been approved by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) to build a prototype tool that can be used by astronauts to collect samples from an asteroid.

This is the second consecutive year a Boise State team has been selected for NASA’s Micro-G NExT program. The team will travel to Johnson Space Center April 25-28 to test the new prototype.

The program is designed to give students hands-on experience in developing space tools to assist astronauts. This year the team is improving on a successful tool developed by last year’s team named “Zero Operable Interplanetary Delivery Based Ergonomics Grabber,” or ZOIDBERG. The tool is designed to collect three separate rock samples from the surface of an asteroid while avoiding cross contamination.

Improvements include more emphasis on ergonomics (the tool must be easily operated with one hand) and replacing the original pulley system that rotated the sample collection boxes with a simpler carousel design.

Team lead Christopher Ruby, along with Marina Autina, Zachary Chastaine, Evan Smith, Melissa Roberts and Jason Kuwada will represent the full team of 13 students at NASA headquarters in Houston, Texas, where they will get the opportunity to test ZOIDBERG 2.0 in the 6.2-million-gallon Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

The team is advised by Gus Engstrom, a mechanical and biomedical engineering professor, Christine Chang Gillespie, project manager for the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives, and retired astronaut Steve Swanson, who is the university’s current distinguished educator in residence.

In addition, the team has provided a variety of educational outreach in the Treasure Valley. Educational outreach has been both informational as well as supportive within local K-12 classrooms. By teaching and tutoring students in the valley, the outreach group hopes that they can grasp the attention of the students for more than just that day. The overall goal is to inspire them to continue an education and career in STEM.