Ossi Väisänen, a mechanical engineering student at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK), got accepted onto the project that aims to solve nothing less than the colonisation of Mars.
The cooperation with NASA*, TAMK and other Finnish partners began last autumn when NASA contacted Finnish universities in order to develop new innovations that would enable manned missions to Mars.
Students are solving the extreme challenges involved in colonising Mars while simultaneously learning to utilise the innovation processes and methods used by NASA. Over 20 students from TAMK are taking part in NASA’s Epic Challenge programme, led by their teachers Antti Perttula and Tomi Salo.
Ossi Väisänen became interested in space and science when he was a child. Now he is part of a team of students developing a Mars simulator and also functions as the team’s project manager. In addition, the team has six other student members from other fields.
– Our team’s objective is to develop a reasonably-priced test chamber where we try to simulate the conditions on Mars. Such chambers already exist, but they are extremely expensive, Väisänen explains.
The chamber is used to test how the devices that will be sent to Mars will function in local conditions. The air pressure on Mars is ~6 millibars, which is approximately 0.6% of Earth’s air pressure. The temperature on Mars varies greatly, while the average temperature is -55°C, so the devices will be at the mercy of extremely severe conditions.
– We are now building a prototype and testing different materials that could be used to construct the chamber, Väisänen explains.
Picture above: Eyes on the sky. For many students, cooperation with NASA is a dream come true. Juuso Aho (left), Ossi Väisänen, Polina Petrova, Antti Perttula, Tomi Salo and Svetlana Rybina creating the right atmosphere at Rauhaniemi beach.
NASA’s Epic Challenge
In addition to TAMK, the other Finnish participants in NASA’s Epic Challenge include the University of Eastern Finland, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, North Karelia Professional College, Lahti University of Applied Sciences, the City of Joensuu and the Savo Consortium for Education.
*) NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (USA)
I am hoping we will come up with something that NASA’s scientists have not yet thought of.”
NASA believes in Finnish education
Perttula, who leads the NASA cooperation at TAMK, says that the most important criterion in the student selection was the person’s motivation to solve difficult problems in a multicultural team in English. The team has students from Finland, Russia, India, Canada and Argentina.
– NASA believes in Finland’s high-quality higher education, which promotes innovation. We found highly motivated students for this project. This project has been great for the teacher, as well, Perttula says happily.
TAMK’s students work in three different teams, one of which focuses on food production, another on the Mars simulator, and the third on improving the usability of an astronaut’s protective gloves.
Our job is to come up with a solution for how to add more dexterity to specesuit gloves.”
Juuso Aho, who studies aircraft engineering, is working in a team whose task is to improve the features of the spacesuit gloves.
– Spacesuit gloves are like oven mitts: they cannot be used for anything small-scale. Our job is to come up with a solution for how to add more dexterity. Temperatures on Mars are extremely low. Humans cannot survive there in ordinary clothing, and suits must be pressurised. Because Mars has space radiation, a protective suit must be worn at all times, Aho explains.
Svetlana Rybina, who is part of the same team as Väisänen, says she has learnt a lot of new things during the project. Rybina, who studies environmental engineering, says that testing the Mars simulator prototypes is without a doubt the most fascinating phase in the project.
– During the test phase, we can immediately see our team’s work results. If the test phase is a failure, it brings you down for a while, but you are quickly encouraged to move on. Next time we will not repeat the same mistake, she says.
This is exactly what NASA’s innovation method is all about. In the Innovative Concept and Engineering Design (ICED) method, several different ideas are developed simultaneously to see which one works best.
– It is cheaper to test a prototype as early as possible than working for longer on something that ultimately fails. If you are going to fail you should do so in the early stages of a project and not when the project has finished, the students say.
Our team’s objective is to develop a reasonably-priced test chamber where we try to simulate the conditions on Mars.”
Weekly online meetings with NASA
The father of the innovation method and the Epic Challenge programme is NASA’s astronaut Charles Camarda.
Karelia University of Applied Sciences and the University of Eastern Finland are coordinating the project in Finland. In addition to TAMK, Karelia University of Applied Sciences and Lahti University of Applied Sciences, education is provided by the experts and astronauts at NASA.
The students work at TAMK and are in remote communication contact with NASA’s experts. In spring 2017, the students will present their work results to NASA.
– I am hoping we will come up with something that NASA’s scientists have not yet thought of, says Juuso Aho.
TEXT: ARJA HAUTALA | PHOTOS: TIINA SUVANTO