15 industrial-design graduate students dream and design big for NASA

Moon Buggy Kevin Hand

“Design for extreme environments” sounds like a new cable show, but it’s actually a class at RISD that focuses on building habitats for truly challenging locations—like the moon. Last fall, NASA asked the students to design a mobile dwelling for its next manned mission to the moon, scheduled for 2020. “NASA wanted a rover that could house four people for two weeks in 24-hour sunlight,” says student Zack Kamen.

One of the biggest obstacles the students faced was how to keep astronauts from tracking lunar dust, which can be as harmful to human lungs as asbestos, into the habitat. The solution was to build airtight “suitlocks” into each habitat. The suitlock designs the RISD students used worked like lunar mudrooms. To leave the habitat, astronauts climb through a hatch and slide their legs directly into a six-foot spacesuit. The astronaut’s life-support pack is mounted on the suitlock door, and when the door closes, the pack snaps into place on the back of his suit. Then the astronauts depressurize the lock and go exploring. “It’s like a holding tank on the exterior of the moon rover, so the suits never actually come inside,” Kamen says.

WHAT’S NEXT: NASA will be using the students’ research to plan its 2020 expedition. “We’re going to have to get together in 2020 and have a big party,” says RISD student Julianne Snow Gauron.



from Oshkosh, Wisconsin

I like NASA's interaction with the public, at least in this fashion. NASA may have some of the brightest minds, but bringing in new, smart, and creative young people or just people outside of NASA itself is a great way of coming up with new ideas and solving old problems.

I am very excited to live in the era that I do. What we accomplish in these next few years (hoping that we don't manage to destroy ourselves and/or our planet) should be impossibly amazing and just plain cool.

It's time to call the Moon ours.

YES!!!!! So true! I think this idea is one of those things you see, then read about, then think about: "DUH! Why didn't I think of that?!" This is exactly what NASA is looking for. People who think outside the box and bring to the table solutions that we all thought should have been obvious, but don't realize till we see them!

Why Rhode Island? Was it better lobbyists? Pork? Someone just liked the school? And why Industrial Design? Why not let real engineers and engineering students do this? Why not make a challenge that all can participate in? Many people have the dream, it should not go to people based on random drawings or political favors or PC or anything else.


from Montreal, Quebec

I agree that it is cool that NASA interacts with the public, but I can't help but wonder if this isn't just a desperate cry for help. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against anything that NASA does, but I find that turning to RSID students for a design of a muli million dollar equipment is a bit ... weird (for lack of better wording).


Actually, Nasa is chock full of silly dummies who get virtually all their novel ideas from spontaneous contacts with genius members of the public. Nasa's failure to reward real contributors leaves it perpetually feeble and inept. We have scans to detect false patent declarations, for instance. These should be used, along with severe punishment, to cajole idea grubbers to more accurately place credit where it is due. What good are Leonardos if they are denied glory and remuneration on which to build even greater wonders?

I think letting students design habitats is a great idea! Young adults have a much better have a much better imagination than grown adults so they can think of things we didn't even consider!



from New York, NY

BNicholson, I appreciate your point of view. Unfortunately, creativity is not always so simple. Leonardo saw the same environment that everyone else saw, but he was the one that was able to paint it and make art out of it. Likewise, many people may have great bursts of insight of scientific ideas, but it's these professional scientists that put them together and construct the space vessels and extra-terrestrial habitats. Hell, I think it would be a great idea for the lunar colony to put communications relays around the circumference of the moon's surface and then time their activation/deactivation so that the active relay is the one that's pointed towards the earth's surface to ensure a constant communication feed between the lunar colony and Earth. Is it a great idea, absolutely! Do I know how to implement it? No idea in hell! So I wouldn't fault a NASA scientist who reads this comment and then goes and invents the thing. Quite the contrary, let him do it! :-)

Erm, You do realize that rotation period and the orbital period on the moon are the same. One side of the moon always faces earth.

Nice work NASA. Involving students with fresh and revolutionary ideas that are not tainted by pragmatism and other "not-possible" attitudes would hopefully help a lot. In addition to boosting NASA's image for the youth, I anticipate each design to be unique and unpredictably weird in a nice way. It's a good way of reaching out to the youth of today most especially discover young talent that could eventually work for the space agency someday. Where do I sign up to test the habitat if it would be in-place in the near future? ^_^