Space travel fascinates many of the highest achievers and most brilliant innovators - folks with the determination to take on challenges and go beyond the boundaries of common understanding. These qualities are a necessity when designing machines intended to be used in space, for there is an astounding amount of uncertainty resulting in a heightened need for both accuracy and creativity. These traits are perfectly exemplified in the students who make up the organization known as the Austin Space Aces (ASA), who will soon be traveling to Houston to test a prototype of a device designed to prevent muscle atrophy in zero gravity. The Austin Space Aces is a group of college students that are based at Austin Community College. This year, the group is made up of Austin Community College, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas State students.
Every year NASA accepts submissions from student groups around the nation for new ideas to assist space travel. The best proposals are selected and the winning teams are invited to test their projects on NASA's facilities where they can take advantage of state of the art equipment. Out of hundreds of submissions this year, only fourteen teams have had their designs chosen for testing, and the Austin Space Aces' design is among them. This honor reflects the hard work and genuine dedication of the group, led by Electrical Engineering student Christina Vasquez. Vasquez founded the group in 2006 and has been making headway as the leader ever since. Their recent project proposal for NASA is entitled Smart Resistive Exercise Device For Free Weight Simulation In Microgravity. In the summer of 2010, the Austin Space Aces will have the opportunity to test their creation in a simulated micro-gravity environment. This will be Vasquez’ second time in simulated space flight for the purpose of device testing. “How are you going to know the effects of microgravity on equipment? You have to simulate microgravity (relatively closely)” she goes on to explain that an airplane performs “parabolic dips… at the pull up you experience twice your own body weight…then you dip down and are essentially free-falling”. Of the ASA members who will be flying, three are from Texas State University-San Marcos: Nathan Robson, Christina Vasquez, and Mark Prado.
People who spend substantial periods of time in space endure physiological challenges that can impact missions negatively if not addressed. According to the ASA's proposal, their device “addresses the long standing and significant problem of muscle atrophy and bone deterioration due to lack of normal gravitational loading in space flight.” Their exercise equipment could prove to be a desirable alternative to the systems used in current space flight and to other systems being tested by NASA. The ASA’s hypothesis is that their design will more closely mimic the “…Earth-like conditions of constant force gravitational loading associated with free weight training” than those previously utilized or tested by NASA. “Using an air vacuum pump, a power supply, valves, [and] a cylindrical apparatus that we can keep at a constant pressure (by pumping air through it),” Vasquez and her group have designed what they propose to be a more consistent way of simulating free weights in space for exercise purposes. The enclosed nature of the device diminishes the chances of human error that can contribute to miscalculations.
You can find the results of their tests right here on the Ingram School of Engineering website in the Fall of 2010. Texas State University – San Marcos is proud to have forward thinkers like Christina Vasquez and the rest of the ACC and UT Austin Space Aces.