A student-led Michigan research team has received a $15,000 grant as one of seven groups selected to participate in NASA’s eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-hab) 2017 Academic Innovation Challenge. The purpose of this challenge is “provide university students with the opportunity to be on the forefront of innovation… necessary to complete long-duration [human spaceflight missions].”
The Michigan team, known as BLiSS (Bio-regenerative Life Support Systems Project), will focus on developing a system that can convert human urine into a plant nutrient solution. As Robert Gitten, Aerospace Engineering senior and BLiSS student lead, explains:
“NASA defines certain technologies that it wants students to investigate. We thought the urine recycling challenge was most inline with our work from last year with aeroponic plant growth and our available equipment [like Dr. Renno’s Mars simulation chamber].”
By its nature, the X-hab challenge is an interdisciplinary endeavor, requiring the melding of fields spanning human anatomy and botany to engineering; thus, the students on BLiSS hail from a variety of departments, including Aerospace Engineering, CLASP, the School of Natural Resources and Environment and Michigan medical school. The team is supported by a group of mentors, including Principle Investigator and CLASP Professor Dr. Nilton Renno, that help provide further expertise.
Along with its technical focus, the X-hab challenge heavily emphasizes community engagement, requiring participating teams to host specific outreach events that will compliment their research. Gitten notes:
“Our control experiments – radishes grown in store bought nutrient solution – will be conducted by a classroom in inner city Ypsilanti or Detroit. [The students] will have the chance to become involved firsthand with space science.”
The team will present their findings to the National Space Grant Foundation in May 2017. If you are interested in participating in BLiSS as a student or mentor, contact Gitten at: firstname.lastname@example.org.