Since 2004, dozens of dedicated individuals including students, faculty, and experts, have contributed to incorporate a human spaceflight component to the Space Studies Department at UND. This is one of the few universities in the world to offer human spaceflight training. The Human Spaceflight Laboratory offers hands-on involvement through graduate and undergraduate research positions, NASA projects, and activities related to human spaceflight. This research, led by Dr. Pablo de León, includes space suit prototypes: the North Dakota Experimental-1 (NDX-1) designed for Martian expeditions, the NDX-2 designed for the Lunar surface, and most recently the NDX-2AT used in the Planetary Exploration Initiative tests for extra-vehicular activity. UND is the first university with a NASA-funded laboratory dedicated to designing and constructing space-exploration and planetary surface exploration suits. UND is also the first university with two fully operational spaceflight simulators. These simulators are real-life models of NASA’s Apollo command module and SpaceShipOne, both funded by the NDSGC
In 2009, the laboratory was awarded a large NASA grant for the North Dakota Planetary Exploration Initiative. This initiative was an effort to develop, design, construct, and test an Inflatable Lunar Habitat (ILH) with an attached Pressurized Electric Rover (PER). The ILH consists of a frame surrounded by a ‘bladder’ which protects the habitat from the surrounding atmosphere. The PER was built to have two NDX-2 planetary suits externally attached, which are accessible from inside the rover. The mission of the joined habitat, rover, and planetary suits is to test a conceptual planetary (Moon/Mars) base.
The ILH is a pressurized habitat that can house four people for up to 30 days. There are four bedrooms, a galley, dining area, bathroom with shower and toilet, and a lab area for scientific work. The ILH is attached to the PER via a docking tunnel allowing for pressurized access between them. The PER, equipped with communications antennae and survival supplies, can accommodate two people and is capable of traveling for several hours on a single charge and has a top speed of 25 mph.
The initial testing of the integrated components took place in the fall of 2013, as three UND graduate students lived as the crew members for a ten day mission. These students included Travis Nelson (Commander), Erica Dolinar (Mission Specialist), and Timothy Buli (Science Officer). The focus of the mission was to test out the space suits during EVAs, the PER, the docking tunnel, and the functionality of the ILH, to prepare for future longer duration missions.
In 2014, three Space Studies graduate students participated in a 30-day mission. The crew members were Tyler Hill (Mission Engineer), Tim Buli (Science Officer), and Jonathan Schiralli (Mission Specialist). Other graduate students performed the duties of Mission Control throughout the month as well.
Research projects conducted during the mission included microbial sampling in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, horticulture studies and waste production (food growth and sustainable living in a closed environment), geologic mapping of the surrounding area through both extra-vehicular activity and with the remotely operated MArs Compliment to Humanity rOver (MACHO), psychological studies, and physiological studies. The key objective of the mission was to confirm that the facility was capable of supporting a month-long mission. Much of the research conducted also provided data for master’s theses at UND.
The crewmembers recorded their experiences during both missions on http://spacesuitlab.blogspot.com.
The NDSGC is proud to have been a part of funding these endeavors, which inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers, giving them unique, first-hand experience in various aspects of space exploration.
For more information on the UND Human Spaceflight Laboratory visit: http://human.space.edu.
“Astronaut” Blog: http://spacesuitlab.blogspot.com