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Dartmouth College Team Wins NASA Challenge With A Greenhouse To Sustain Life On Mars

April 26, 2019

Image courtesy of Dartmouth College, Thayer School of Engineering


It’s a greenhouse named DEMETER — the name of the Greek goddess of the harvest — and it’s designed to sustain life for humans exploring Mars. And it’s a BIG Idea.

In fact, it’s such a big idea that a team of Dartmouth College students in the Thayer School of Engineering actually won NASA’s Big Idea Challenge for 2019, with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s entry coming in as runner-up.

According to SpaceRef, DEMETER also stands for “Deployable Enclosed Martian Environment for Technology, Eating, and Recreation.” This describes an innovative, seemingly futuristic design for a Martian greenhouse that can grow “kale, soy, sweet potato, potato, broccoli, strawberry, wheat and chufa.”

These special crops will be grown in a rotating hydroponic gardening system that will provide “enough nourishment for a four-person crew” to work a 600-day mission on the Martian surface.

SpaceRef adds that the greenhouse will include an exercise and relaxation facility to protect and preserve “the emotional health and well-being of astronauts.”

The award-winning design by the 8-member team was also praised for being easily and efficiently “transported millions of miles from Earth, deployed, and then sustained with limited technology and resources.”

“I can’t begin to explain how exciting this is,” said Alexa Escalona ’18, the team’s co-manager. “This validates all of the late nights and hard work. It was an amazing experience in general, and coming in first place still feels surreal. We had tons of people supporting us, and we couldn’t have done it without all of them.”

According to interim dean Laura Ray, who accompanied the winning team to NASA’s facility in Langley, VA to receive their award, the first-place prize confirms the Thayer School’s multi-disciplinary approach.

“I am thrilled with the outcome,” Ray said. “The NASA challenge demanded a systems-thinking approach, and that’s precisely what a Thayer education provides. The team was methodical and dedicated and they ended up winning the day against fantastic competition.”

The award has also given the 8 engineering students a chance for highly coveted internships at NASA this summer.

According to Dartmouth, this is the first time that the school “has entered – and won – NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, a national engineering competition that elicits solutions from some of the best and brightest students for some of NASA’s pressing, real-time space exploration challenges.”




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