High School Students Shoot for the Moon
Students from ‘Iolani School in Honolulu and Kealakehe High School on the Big Island are on a field trip to where few kids have gone before. The students are part of Moon RIDERS, helping to test systems designed for a future NASA mission to the moon.
Of course, RIDERS is a backronym, in this case standing for Research Investigating Dust Expulsion Removal Systems. Dust may seem like a small issue — a very small one — but particles on the surface of the moon and other planets can cause havoc with equipment and flight suits. Drawn by static electricity, the dust collects on solar panels and other optics, gets into delicate hardware, and even wore partially through the outer gloves of astronaut space suits.
Space dust can be as fine as flour but rough as sandpaper, and scientists have known that it could be a major problem for years.
The most promising solution is an Electrodynamic Dust Shield, or EDS, a high-voltage, low-current system that should repel the tiny, jagged particles. The students from both schools have been working since September to test one.
“NASA’s technology could solve the dust problem in space and this lunar flight experiment will be the first time the dust shield is tested outside of the laboratory,” said Rob Kelso, executive director of PISCES, in a press release. “Not only will students gain real-world aerospace engineering experience, but the design and test data they’ll be gathering could be used in future space missions.”
The testing is taking place right now at the PISCES Planetary Analogue Test Site on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Future phases will progress all the way up to the construction of a full-size mockup of a moon lander, but for now, the Iolani team used their maker facility to build a quarter-size mockup of the Astrobotic Lunar Rover called the Griffin. The Kealakehe team, meanwhile, is using an alternative rover design from the EarthRise Space Foundation.
The project is a collaboration between the schools, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), NASA, and Google’s Lunar XPRISE program. Organizers say the public-private STEM education partnership, which involves both a public and private school, is a first for Hawaii.
And while the students working on Moon RIDERS are juniors and seniors in high school, the plan is to involve younger kids. Following the on-site testing, the two teams will take their work on the road, doing STEM outreach both in person as well as online via websites and social media.
Meanwhile, they will refine their designs, making recommendations on ways to improve the EDS. When the next mission to the moon launches next year, the work of these local students will go along for the ride.
“With access to cutting edge technology, students of all ages are becoming complex and creative thinkers inspired to apply classroom knowledge to real world issues,” said Dr. Timothy R. Cottrell, head of ‘Iolani School, in the release. “The PISCES project is an extraordinary, innovative learning opportunity for students to gain the hands-on experience, technological skills and access to a culture of collaboration that is essential to 21st century learning.”
For a real sense of how the Moon RIDERS program is growing young minds, listen to Amy Lowe, Kealakehe student robotics leader (and Moon RIDERS logo designer):
We’ll be talking to students and teachers from both schools on the next episode of “Bytemarks Cafe,” airing 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25 on Hawaii Public Radio.
Raw video courtesy Bennet Group.