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NASA Dream Becomes Reality for Two ASU Students

May 17, 2012. It has been 51 years since President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to set its sight on a lunar landing.

The idea of space exploration held by many public school and university students continues today, especially for two Appalachian State University students who have received funding to work at NASA this summer. 

Appalachian received $90,000 from N.C. Space Grant Consortium for the 2012-13 academic year, $40,000 of which will support graduate and undergraduate research scholarships.

Undergraduate physics major James “Jay” Phillips of Dallas, N.C., and engineering physics graduate student Joshua D. Kelley of Boone will use their N.C. Space Grant funding to conduct research at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Electrostatics and Surface Physics Laboratory (ESPL) in Florida on ways electrostatic forces can be used to remove Martian dust that can accumulate on equipment that might someday support future manned missions to Mars.

Phillips has received a $6,000 N.C. Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholarship for his project titled “Testing of an electrodynamic screen (EDS) during exposure to the space environment on the MISSE-X International Space Station external platform.” He will assist with research on electrodynamic screens that best repel or limit dust accumulation when a high voltage traveling wave is applied to the screen. Such dust removal will be critical to future lunar and Mars missions. 

“It has been my goal to work at NASA during some portion of my life,” said Phillips. “I can now realize my goal since this grant will allow me to conduct research on-site at a NASA facility. It is pretty awesome to know that something I will spend a summer working on will be on the International Space Station someday.”

Electrodynamic screens developed at NASA will be tested at the MISSE-X International Space Station (Materials International Space Station Experiment-X). Information gathered from the space station helps scientists evaluate various EDS coating and insulation materials that can withstand the harsh environment of space.

Kelley received a $7,000 N.C. Space Grant Graduate Fellowship for his project titled “Development of an Electrostatic Precipitator to Remove Martian Dust from ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization) Gas Intakes.”

He will be researching the use of electrostatic precipitators to remove Martian dust from gas intakes on equipment that collects oxygen from the Martina atmosphere. He will conduct his research in special chambers in the ESPL at Kennedy Space Center that simulate the Martian environment. 

“In order to establish the self-sufficiency required for the type of long duration mission that Mars will require, supplies will need to be processed from the local environment,” Kelley said.

“Resources such as oxygen, water and methane for fuel can be extracted from the Martian atmosphere, but only once the dust has been removed. The design of an ESP that can remove the dust from the atmospheric intakes of production chambers is vital to the sustainability and cost effectiveness of future manned missions to Mars,” he said. 

The students will work under the guidance of Dr. J. Sid Clements from Appalachian’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and  Dr. Carlos Calle, head of the NASA Kennedy Space Center Electrostatics and Surface Physics Laboratory.

Clements has worked with NASA for eight years refining a system that uses electrostatic forces to remove dust from solar panels on the unmanned exploration vehicles on Mars and that also could remove lunar dust from space suits, mechanical parts and equipment. 

Other students who received research grants from the N.C. Space Grant Consortium are graduate students Kevin Holloway, who received $6,000 to work with physics associate professor Jim Sherman, and Ashley Roberts, who received $6,000 to work on research with physics professor Phil Russell.

Undergraduate research scholarships totaling $5,000 each were awarded to undergraduate physics majors Eitan Lees and Courtney Bougher for work with Assistant Professor Brad Conrad. Environmental science major Stephanie Hoelbling received a $4,000 award for work with Assistant Professor Barkley Sive.

Since 2005, Appalachian faculty and students have received approximately $700,000 from N.C. Space Grant to support space science research and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) engagement activities.