Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Principal Investigator: Marlena Fraune, Ph.D.
Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Psychology

Description: Our objective is to improve astronaut mental models of co-present robots on the ISS. We will develop robot behaviors that can improve human understanding of a robot’s states and abilities (see Table). When people do not know what to expect from robots, they behave in ways that robots cannot support (e.g., humans may employ natural language that robots cannot interpret). This mismatch causes task errors [4, 6, 7], impacts trust, and has other negative consequences. To address this, we study how robots can behave to improve people’s mental model of them. This can include understanding and responding to typical initial expectations of the robot and by working to avoid or repair misunderstandings. Robots that do this will increase the situation awareness of astronauts and reduce the training necessary to successfully work with robots. We will advance understanding of how people can more effectively interact with robots and propose design recommendations for improving space robots.

Screening for Salt and Drought Tolerance in Edible Crops Selected for Space Plant Breeding Program

Principal Investigator: Elena Sevostianova, Ph.D.
Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Description: The project aims to screen several monocotyledons (grasses) and dicotyledons (broad leaf crops) that can be used for a space plant breeding program. The grass family (Poaceae) includes species from a wide diversity of habitats and shows a considerable measure of ecological adaptation. While many of the grasses can be grown under extreme conditions such as drought, heat, and low quality irrigation water, they also possess characteristics that make them particularly well suited for this program, such as compact size, tolerant to stress, rapid growth, and reliable germination. In addition to grasses, two crops with high levels of beneficial phytonutrients or antioxidants values will be included in the study to identify other potential candidates for the space breeding program. If funded, we propose to screen two grasses and two broad leaf crops of high nutritional value in greenhouse conditions to identify plants that tolerate irrigation with treated effluent water under deficit evapotranspiration (ET) replacement while maintaining high level of nutrients. This research is directly applicable to the topics of particular interest of the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate [1]. The objectives of the proposed research are:

  • Use ground-based facilities to simulate conditions in outer space by growing grasses and broad leaf crops with high nutritional values that can tolerate irrigation with low quality water under deficit ET replacement
  • Contribute to and strengthen New Mexico agricultural educational and research programs at NMSU
  • Develop nationally competitive research expertise and research programs in the proposed and related areas to build capacity and assist in securing future external funding.

Temperature-dependent Ellipsometry and Thermal Stability of Phase Change Materials for Tunable Optics Applications

Principal Investigator: Stefan Zollner, Ph.D.
Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Physics

Description: NMSU will determine the transmission spectra and ellipsometric angles of several one-inch CaF2 wafers coated with germanium-antimony-tellurium based phase change memory alloys covered with a silicon dioxide capping layer over a broad spectral (190 nanometers to 40 micrometers) and temperature range (80 to 750 degrees Kelvin) at an incidence angle of 70 degrees in an ultra high vacuum cryostat. Data from two different instruments (J. A. Woollam variable angle of incidence spectroscopic ellipsometer and J. A. Woollam Fourier-transform infrared variable angle of incidence spectroscopic ellipsometer) will be merged to achieve this broad spectral range. A custom window correction will be applied to avoid merging discontinuities. The back side of the wafers will be sand blasted before the ellipsometry measurements for roughening.  The combined data set will be analyzed to determine the optical constants (complex dielectric function, refractive index, extinction coefficient) as a function of wavelength and temperature for the design of active optical devices, such as optical filters. Other measurements, such as atomic force microscopy, x-ray reflectance, and powder x-ray diffraction will be performed as needed for the analysis of the ellipsometric angles. These layers will be provided by NASA. Regular meetings with NASA will be scheduled to coordinate sample preparation, data acquisition, and analysis.

Design, Build, Fly

Principal Investigator: Andreas Gross, Ph.D.
Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Engineering

Description: The Design Build Fly (DBF) competition is a competitive fixed wing aircraft challenge hosted yearly by American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). AIAA develops unique and challenging design criteria governing the entire airframe and flight mission. After working on their designs for the better part of a school year, over 100 teams from across the world congregate to the deserts of Tucson, AZ to show off and compete with their designs. AIAA judges and volunteer personnel perform tech inspection on airframes and score team’s designs before allowing the teams to fly the mission specified by that year’s challenge. Design Build Fly is an amazing opportunity for developing applied aerospace engineering skills and team members of every skill level, age, and academic background are essential in developing a well-rounded design from multiple engineering perspectives. NMSU’s Design Build Fly club has existed since the early 2000’s and has had varying success over the years – but NMSU’s 2020/2021 season DBF team has the opportunity to improve on advanced manufacturing techniques and design points integrated by the teams of previous years. With the support of funds from NMSGC’s Student Competition Program, Design Build Fly will be able to push the limits of integrating cutting edge aerospace materials and advanced manufacturing techniques into the design of the 2020/2021 airframe. Additionally, the logistics of taking a team of ~15 students to competition out of state for multiple days are extremely taxing on the DBF design budget – NMSGC funds could allow us to focus more of our current budget on accomplishing the most professional airframe design possible.

Plant the Moon Challenge (Higher Education Team)

Principal Investigator: Nicole Pietrasiak, Ph.D.
Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

 Description: Our student team would like to participate in the Plant the Moon Challenge hosted by the Institute of Competition Sciences on behalf of NASA and supported by the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Lab. The competition is a nationwide/global science competition and is linked to NASA Artemis’ near future mission to return to the moon for a detailed exploration of the moon’s surface which will require astronauts to spend a considerable amount of time in space. Such a mission necessitates the availability of healthy food for the crew over a long period. Sustainable plant production on the moon could help optimize logistics and economics of the mission. Our objective is to design and conduct space biological research that will test a variety of experimental conditions aiming to grow healthy and nutritious food from moon regolith simulant. Specifically, we will focus our experimental design on crop selection, regolith amendments, and microbial inoculants. Our team aims to particularly focus on growing nutritious drought tolerant plant and mushroom crops. Drought tolerant plant crop species such as the heirloom Anasazi beans are adapted to low fertility soils and have been selected and bred under arid climate for millennia. Mushrooms also need very little water or fertilizer to grow, do not require sunlight, and have been shown to be high in 12 vitamins and minerals including antioxidants (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019).

Plant the Moon Challenge (K – 12 Team)

Principal Investigator: Andrew Moralez
Affiliation/Dept.: 21st Century Academic Enrichment Programs

Description: The Plant the Moon Challenge, hosted by Institute of Competition Sciences on behalf of NASA, is a global science experiment, learning activity and inspirational competition to see who can grow the best crops using lunar regolith simulant. Design and conduct a set of plant growth experiments using lunar soil simulant provided by the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Lab – part of a NASA virtual institute. Our student team will report experimental parameters and results to help NASA scientists understand how to use lunar soil to provide nutritious crops for future Moon missions! Per the Plant the Moon Challenge website, all dignitaries with completed projects will be invited to showcase their projects at a virtual symposium with NASA scientists, program executives, and other dignitaries.