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      Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. Leadership from NASA and Boeing will participate in a media briefing at 12:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 10, to discuss the agency’s Crew Flight Test at the International Space Station.
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      As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams lifted off on June 5, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on an end-to-end test of the Starliner system. The crew docked to the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module on June 6.
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      Finn Braun speaks about his design for a lunar ATV at the 2024 International Space Development Conference while his mentor Dr. Pascal Lee looks on. NSS/Madhu Thangavelu Share

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    • By NASA
      Experienced spacewalkers, university students, flight controllers, and NASA team members at all stages of their career recently came together at Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) for an anniversary celebration that looked to the future as much as the past. The Office of STEM Engagement’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (Micro-g NExT) marked a decade of inspiring the next generation of space explorers with four days of exciting hands-on experiences and events commemorating those who have shaped the annual challenge.

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      Teams chose from four design challenge options – create an anchoring device for a lunar flagpole, design a lunar mapbook, develop a lunar tool carrier, or create a target recognition system camera for post-landing search and rescue operations – and submitted technical proposals for Micro-g NExT staff to review in October 2023. The selected student teams were announced in November and introduced to their mentors in December. Those mentors provided continuous support and expertise as teams manufactured their prototypes, submitted their preliminary design review, and completed initial tests prior to traveling to Houston. Mentors represented Johnson organizations including the Flight Operations Directorate, Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program, Engineering, and the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate.

      Another familiar face at Johnson was involved in the challenge, as well: former NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, who was the Boise State University team’s faculty advisor. Swanson is a three-time spaceflight veteran who completed four spacewalks and logged and a total of 195 days in space, which enabled him to provide the students with valuable design insights.

      Former NASA astronaut Steve Swanson with members of the Boise State University Micro-g NExT team at the NBL. NASA/David DeHoyos
      Once they arrived at the NBL, students received a pre-test briefing from Flight Director Rebecca Wingfield about best practices for communication from a mission control perspective. She also debriefed with teams to provide students with feedback that enhanced their learning experience and gave them a deeper understanding of their projects’ impact on the Artemis campaign.

      NASA Flight Director Rebecca Wingfield conducts a pre-test briefing for Micro-g NExT teams. Credit: NASA/James Blair
      NASA astronaut Nicole Mann supported students in the test control room as they underwent testing and were in direct communication with the diver using their prototype in the pool. Mann also conducted a series of post-test debriefs with several teams to give them insight on how their designs were helpful and how they can improve.

      NASA astronaut Nicole Mann in the NBL control room with Micro-g NExT participants.NASA/James Blair Students also had the opportunity to participate in a poster session at Johnson’s Teague Auditorium to showcase their products and the process from proposal to completion of testing. Artemis Student Challenge Awards were presented to top teams in three categories – Innovation, Pay it Forward (for community engagement and outreach), and Artemis Educator (for a team’s faculty advisor).

      Micro-g NExT poster session in the lobby of Johnson Space Center’s Teague Auditorium. NASA/David DeHoyos

      The whirlwind week kicked off with a reception for Micro-g NExT alumni who were recognized for their past efforts and dedication to space exploration. Certificates of appreciation were given to the program’s ‘pioneers’ – the NASA employees, contractors, and interns who helped to create Micro-g NExT 10 years ago. 

      Several tools made by student teams during prior challenges were on display, including a zip-tie cutter designed by the Lone Star College-Cy Fair team in spring 2019 that was used aboard the International Space Station by European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. Members of that team shared their Micro-g NExT experience with reception attendees. “It gives students the best real-world experience and learning opportunity I have seen,” said James Philippi.
      Students and staff also heard from several Micro-g NExT alumni during a Q&A panel. Panelists included Harriet Hunt, CRONUS flight controller trainee; Aaron Simpson, xEMU Portable Life Support System engineer intern; Alexis Vance, environmental systems flight controller; Kim Wright, electrical, mechanical, and external thermal systems engineer; and Sam Whitlock, spaceflight systems engineering intern at Axiom Space. Each shared how Micro-g NExT impacted them personally and professionally, underscoring the long-term value of participating in the challenge and the program’s ability to attract next-generation talent to the agency.

      Micro-g NExT alumni during a Q&A session with this year’s challenge participants and NASA team members. NASA/James Blair Adding to this legacy, two of the 2024 Micro-g NExT participants ended their challenge experience by starting work with NASA. Alana Falter from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign returned to NASA as a Pathways Intern, and Adrian Garcia from the University of Houston-Clear Lake returned as a contractor with Barrios Technology.

      Another nod to the challenge’s impact was a special 10-year patch and logo designed by Justin Robert from the Michoud Assembly Facility through the NASA Spark challenge to commemorate the Micro-g NExT milestone.

      10-year anniversary of Micro-g NExT logos.Credit: NASA “Student design challenges have been a critical pipeline for both NASA internship participants and preparing students to be successful in STEM careers,” said Jamie Semple, NASA activity manager for Micro-g NExT. “By participating in these activities, students have the opportunity to create a product that could be part of spaceflight history, all while building essential skills for the next step in their career.” Semple added, “We also see the challenge’s impact with former participants now becoming our Micro-g NExT challenge owners. These people are now leading the program into the future and continuing the legacy of creating leaders in the STEM workforce and for the NASA community.”

      Reflecting on their experience, Smith Juback from Clemson University said working cooperatively with teammates was their favorite part of this design challenge. “We all had different ideas and ways to solve different problems and being able to incorporate everyone’s ideas together made us all smarter in the end,” he said. “I think we all learned so much individually about how to make and design a product, and we grew as people, students, and designers.”

      Students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln team said, “Working with astronauts in a professional environment like the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory is about precision since time is so valuable and you have to make the most of it. Back at home, we have several hours to test our project and if it breaks it breaks. But in the NBL, we have 12 minutes to run through seven tests. This experience is something you can only get here at Micro-g NExT.”

      A Micro-g NExT participant directs testing from the NBL control room. Credit: NASA After four days of learning, testing, and networking, Micro-g NExT has reached a decade of providing greater knowledge and inspiration to youth across the country. As one of NASA’s Artemis student challenges, Micro-g NExT will continue to offer undergraduate students the opportunity to design and create mission-ready hardware to benefit the future of deep space exploration. Learn more about Micro-g NExT and other Artemis student challenges at https://stem.nasa.gov/artemis/.

      Students in the control room at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory test their projects underwater with a diver in the pool. Credit: NASA/James Blair A student team works on their project before testing at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.Credit: NASA/James Blair NASA astronaut Nicole Mann and a diver from NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory brief with two students about their lunar flagpole before testing underwater. Credit: NASA/James Blair A student team being awarded a ‘Pay It Forward’ award at Micro-g NExT at Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA/David DeHoyos A student team from Boise State University poses with an ‘Innovation Award’ they received at Micro-g NExT at Johnson Space center. Credit: NASA/David DeHoyos Students, mentors, and NASA personnel pose with two awards, the ‘Artemis Educator Award’ and the ‘Pay It Forward Award’, at Johnson Space Center in Houston.Credit: NASA/David DeHoyos View the full article
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