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UW Undergrads Win NASA Habitat Design Competition | News

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UW Undergrads Win NASA Habitat Design Competition
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UW Undergrads Win NASA Habitat Design Competition

It's an inflatable home fit for an asteroid: Designing a prototype habitat that looks like giant tent for the next generation of space explorers, an interdisciplinary team of University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate students has won the NASA eXploration Habitat Academic Innovation Challenge.

The competition charges university teams to design and rapidly develop inflatable, habitable spaces NASA can integrate onto an existing demonstration laboratory. In September 2010, NASA named the UW-Madison Badger X-Loft team a finalist in the competition, along with teams from Oklahoma State University and the University of Maryland. The National Space Grant Foundation awarded each finalist initial funding of $48,000.

The UW-Madison team deployed and displayed its prototype at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, June 20 through 24. For its win, the team receives an additional $10,000 and several members will spend September in Arizona, where they will test their habitat as part of a simulated astronaut mission to an asteroid in the annual NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies field test.

The Badger X-Loft prototype is approximately 13 feet tall and 16 feet in diameter. Perched atop the NASA habitat demonstration unit laboratory, the habitat can house four crew members for several days and includes a desk and chair for each person, several windows styled like a ship's portholes, and a second story "loft" with private sleeping quarters. 

Led by Fred Elder, a UW-Madison adjunct professor of mechanical engineering and engineering physics, the team designed, built and tested its full-size prototype as part of a two-semester senior design course offered in engineering mechanics and astronautics.

Often, such design courses team up students in the same engineering field. However, the Badger X-Loft team included students studying engineering mechanics, mechanical engineering, textile and apparel design, and finance and economics.

Nicole Roth, who in May 2011 earned bachelor's degrees in finance and economics, served as the team's accountant. She joined the team because she saw an opportunity to gain real-world experience in her field. 

In addition to Roth, other Badger X-Loft team members include Jordan Wachs, Aaron Olson, Marc Fritz, Nathan Wong, Mike Lucas, Sam Marron, Max Salick, Ariel Arnson, Will Yu, Peter Sweeney, Julie Mason, Steve Wisser and Tim Feyereisen.

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