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UVa. Students Giving NASA a Helping Hand

By: Suzanne Wilson Email
By: Suzanne Wilson Email

October 23, 2013

A team of UVa. Engineering and Applied Science students have been chosen as one of ten teams in the United States to work along side NASA to study cosmic radiation on the stratosphere.

The UVa. Spacecraft Design team isn't new to the world of building space-bound vehicles, but this year NASA is asking for a helping hand.

When we fly, we are exposed to cosmic radiation. This is radiation that is generated by the sun and other stars. In high quantities, radiation is bad for humans and can put holes in our DNA.

For the average flyer, this isn't a big deal. For pilots and crew members who fly frequently, radiation exposure amounts can climb to dangerous levels.

"We plan to measure cosmic ray activity in the atmosphere," said Christopher Goyne, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UVa. "They generate radiation in the atmosphere that airline passengers and crew can be exposed too. We'd like to predict and measure those levels so we can protect people from radiation exposure."

The team of students will be building a triple cube shaped structure carried by a balloon to the edge of space.

"Our goal is to perfect the NASA model," said Christina Gilligan, UVa. Astrophysics student and Science Principal Investigator for the project. "It is 50 percent under reporting the amount of radiation people are experiencing. We want to get more data so we can perfect their model and be able to help the safety of people."

The model for the vehicle model is based on last years design that was controlled by a smart phone. Clips of this vehicle in flight can be found in the story video.

"We're using what they've done in the past to see what's successful and learn lessons from them," said Bryan Dale, UVa. Engineering student and project manager. "In the end we are going to pretty much have to overhaul and start from the beginning."

Working with NASA is a great opportunity professionally, but it is also a dream come true for many of these students.

"Since I was a kid," Dale explained, "I've wanted to be an astronaut. Getting to work with the people that really work in that field is really interesting and cool."

"They get the opportunity to work with NASA engineers and scientists and get hands on project experience that will really prepare them for when they work in the industry," said Goyne.

The experiment will be put 23 miles into the atmosphere next September in New Mexico.

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