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Boise State's Microgravity Team shoots for the moon

Man stands in front of computer with headset on his eyes.
Posted at 9:49 AM, Aug 16, 2021

BOISE, Idaho — Local college students are literally shooting for the moon.

Each year, NASA releases four or five challenges to universities across the country for problems that need solving. For students on Boise State's Microgravity Team, it's an exciting step into the world of space.

"I always had this thought growing up that NASA knows it all, (that) they're ahead of everything, and then you sit down to work with them and you realize they're learning just like everyone else," said recent graduate Caleb Cram.

Caleb and his team worked to develop a system that allows astronauts to have more spatial awareness, all while allowing scientists back on earth to be able to see space through the astronaut's eyes.

It's called a hololens, and through augmented reality, the astronaut can use it to bring up maps, notes, and other resources entirely by hand tracking or voice command; all while still being able to see their surroundings.

"Essentially it projects light onto that lense to create holograms," Cram explained. "It's got a series of sensors that tracks your hands and eyes to manipulate these holograms and control them using hand tracking and eye-tracking."

Ainsley Iwersen is another member of the team, but she's working on a different project.

"Our team designed a quick release attachment system for astronauts to use on the moon during spacewalks," Iwersen explained.

Astronaut suits are hard to maneuver, according to Iwersen, plus lunar dust makes accessing tools difficult. The quick-release system is meant to give astronauts better access to the tools on their toolbelts.

The design for the system took months and a team of around 20 students.

"It sounds simple, but it actually has a lot of different components," Iwersen said.

Iwersen is now about to go into her second year at Boise State. She says after taking as many STEM classes as she could in her hometown of Middleton, she was excited to be part of a program like this one in just her first year at college.

One of the Microgravity Team's mentors is Steve Swanson. When it comes to space, he knows his stuff: he's a former astronaut! He says teaching is different from exploring space, but inspiring the next generation is a truly out-of-this-world experience.

"I can guide them in what the astronaut is going to need out of this product they're building. I can give them that user experience. And also how to be a good team member and to develop something like this and prototype something like this," Swanson said. "You can see them thinking 'what do I want to do with my life--and this could be part of it, this could be what I want to do.' I love to see that and see them realize that they can be part of this team if they want."

The students don't yet know if their devices will be used in the Artemis Missions which are scheduled for 2024, but each student's device has gone through the testing process with NASA and could potentially be used.