This spring, MIT’s Space Exploration Initiative will fund two microgravity flights as part of its research programme.
Space tourism and people living off-planet are on the horizon, therefore the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative is designing and investigating the activities humanity will engage in in new, weightless surroundings.
As part of the ZERO-G Research Program, the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) has been coordinating frequent parabolic flights since 2017 to test experiments that require microgravity. MIT’s AeroAstro, Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), Mechanical Engineering, MIT Kavli Institute, MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science were among the researchers supported by the SEI in May.
MAS.838 / 16.88 (Prototyping Our Space Future) given by SEI’s creator and director, Ariel Ekblaw, began teaching the class in 2018. There are two cohorts flying this year because to the Covid-19 epidemic.
‘Prototyping our Sci-Fi Space Future’ is the course’s name because it’s supposed to incubate and curate the future artefacts for living in space and robotic exploration, and it brings the Media Lab’s enchantment and imagination into the process.’
As part of the course, students learn how to conduct experiments in 20-second bursts of zero gravity in parabolic flight. When a course continues to give hands-on research and logistical preparation, and when more of these flights are carried out, the projects themselves demonstrate an increase in ambition and maturity as a result.
Scientists from throughout the MIT campus contributed experiments to the SEI programme, including graduates and other partners, according to Maria T. Zuber, SEI faculty advisor and MIT vice president for research. For the most part, there was a lot of rivalry, and some of the projects are far enough along that they can go into space very soon.
Be daring in your thinking and your design:
New experiments were included in both the 2020 and 2021 cohorts, demonstrating SEI’s distinctive focus on research across disciplines. The advantages of microgravity are sought by some, while others strive to develop ways of living and working without the force that dictates every instant of human life on Earth.
Using a 3D space compass, Che-Wei Wang, Sands Fish, and Mehak Sarang from SEI developed Zenolith, a free-flying pointing device to help space travellers navigate the universe. As Sarang points out, the first step toward having the gadget point to any area in the Solar Mechanism is to execute some manoeuvres in zero gravity and test that our control system is working quite well. In order to reach our ultimate aim of transporting the device to the International Space Station, we’ll need more design tweaks!
And there’s Rachel Bellisle’s Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit, a Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology doctorate student and Draper Fellow project. For future voyages to the moon or Mars, the skinsuit is meant to simulate Earth gravity for exercise, and to reduce the physiological impacts of microgravity in present ISS mission conditions. The suit has been in development at MIT and elsewhere for more than a decade, with previous parabolic flying trials. In the lab of Dava Newman, who is currently the head of the Media Lab, Skinsuit was created.
To prepare for true long-term spaceflight missions, Newman adds, “I believe that designing, flying, and testing an actual prototype is the best technique that I know of.” A blast it is to fly in microgravity and partial gravity in the ZERO-G plane.
The Peristaltic Suit, produced by Media Lab researcher Irmandy Wicaksono, and the Bio-Digital Wearables or Space Health Enhancement project, developed by Media Lab researcher Pat Pataranutaporn, were both flown this spring.
When it comes to monitoring, supporting, and maintaining human life in space, wearables have the potential to play a crucial role and reduce human medical expert intervention, says Pataranutaporn. Aside from that, “having this microgravity experience following our SpaceCHI workshop… offered me so many ideas for thinking about alternative on-body devices that can complement humans in space”
MIT graduate students Somayajulu Dhulipala and Manwei Chan developed AgriFuge, a rotating plant habitat with simulated gravity and a customizable irrigation system. As long-duration missions become more common, AgriFuge expects crews will be able to grow their own plants – for oxygen and food, as well as the psychological advantages of taking care of plants. A rising number of practical “life in space” research projects, including H0TP0T by Larissa Zhou of Harvard SEAS and Gravity Proof by Maggie Coblentz of SEI, have flown this spring.