Preparing for Takeoff

OCC Lazernaut team members use a chemical reaction to create a comet-like surface to test the anchoring device they have created.

OCC’s NASA Team is on the brink of the trip of a lifetime. In May six students will travel to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. They’ll bring with them a device they’ve created which astronauts will use in an underwater experiment. “As we work on this project we’re experiencing what a real work environment is like,” said team co-leader Natalia Montilla. “We’re all playing important roles, making sure we’re hitting deadlines and everything is working. We’re really excited to go.”

Planning began last October when OCC was selected to be one of more than two dozen teams which would submit designs for tools or devices which astronauts would use during explorations. Most of the schools selected were prestigious four-year college and universities with large budgets. Only three community colleges were selected.

OCC’s six-person team named itself the “Lazernauts.” They began working on an anchoring device that would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon. Team co-leader Brian Richardson used a computer program to design a hand-powered auger. It needed to meet specific size, weight and strength specifications.

The Lazernauts used a 3-D printer to create an auger made out of Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene, or ABS plastic. It’s the type of material used to make Lego’s. Each design was thoroughly tested and analyzed. Throughout the process the team stayed in touch with a NASA Astronaut who served as their team mentor. The astronaut gave advice and made sure they were staying on schedule.

The Lazernauts also created a hard substance for the auger to drill into which would simulate the surface of a comet or small planet. The process included the mixing of dry ice with hot water, creating the type of fog show you might see at a concert.

Throughout the next month-and-a-half OCC’s team will continue to test and tweak their design. They are also doing public outreach, making presentations to clubs and libraries about their efforts. In April WSYR-TV Newschannel 9 came to campus and did a story on OCC’s NASA Team for that evenings 6pm newscast. You can view the story here.

When they travel to Houston the Lazernauts will watch an astronaut dive into a 40-foot-deep pool and attempt to use their auger in wet sand. The astronaut will wear a GoPro camera. The OCC students will be in a control room, communicating with the astronaut.

OCC’s Lazernauts are:

  • Natalia Montilla, team co-leader               Nottingham High School
  • Brian Richardson, team co-leader             Liverpool High School
  • Nathan Johnson                                            Homeschooled
  • Allan O’Mara                                                  Homeschooled
  • Neil Minet                                                       Marcellus High School
  • Doug Weaver                                                  Chittenango High School

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