When pondering the challenge of how to make astronauts’ lives better on the International Space Station, the winners of the “Life in Space” Challenge went back to basics.
The winning team of five students from Carnegie Mellon University looked at how astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS) spent their days.
It turns out, they spend nearly two hours of their 12-hour shifts exercising – not only for good health, but to prevent muscle degeneration and mobility loss that would otherwise happen over time in an atmosphere with little-to-no gravity.
In fact, astronauts lose almost 20 percent of their muscle mass due to prolonged exposure to microgravity conditions, which can be a serious health threat when missions on the ISS average about six months.
“We wanted to tackle the problem by figuring out how the astronauts could do something throughout the day that could benefit their bodies but wouldn’t be too obtrusive,” said Kevin Yu, a member of the winning team and a mechanical engineering student at Carnegie Mellon.
The “Muscle Maximus,” the Carnegie Mellon team’s winning product, was designed using HP ZBook Studio Mobile Workstations, powered by Intel® Core i7® processors. They won the challenge for proposing an innovative design for an “exoskeleton” (it looks a bit like human armor) that would apply resistance to an astronaut’s joints and muscles as he or she moved throughout their day on the ISS.
The contest kicked off in February with HP and Intel engaging with teams of engineering students from Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, University of Texas, Oregon State University, Arizona State University, Virginia Tech University and Clemson University.
Their mission: Develop a manufacturable product that can help improve the lives of astronauts in space.
The finalist teams delivered a range of creative ideas, from a retractable-blade tape dispenser (these simple devices are too sharp to be safely used on the ISS and are currently banned) to a kind of mobile workbench so all of an astronaut’s tools can be tethered safely but also remain at hand.
See the winning team’s video pitch:
In addition to reducing exercise time, Carnegie Mellon’s Muscle Maximus is self-sustaining and doesn’t require any outside power source. Because it targets four major muscle groups, the device would also reduce the number of machines needed for exercise, freeing up more space in the ISS.
The Carnegie Mellon team attributes their success to the diversity of thought and variety of science disciplines among their ranks, which included biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and computational design students.
Diane Turnshek, department of physics faculty advisor who lead the team, said that their concept beat out the competition because it not only could have immediate, measurable impact on the lives of astronauts on the ISS, but it could also be used by the Earth-bound who need help maintaining mobility.
“One of the best parts of the competition is that NASA joined HP and Intel on the judging panel, and that they will continue to research and carry forward this idea so that it might become a reality.”