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UCF mechanical and aerospace engineering students have proven they have the minds for space research. A team of five students competed in the 2021 NASA MINDS experience and took third place for the Systems Engineering Paper Award. They were also ranked among the top seven senior teams and received an honorable mention for the Overall Design, Build and Demonstration Senior Team Award.

“Our team of students worked together through the challenges of the pandemic to design and demonstrate an innovative solution for NASA’s Artemis Mission, said Professor Seetha Raghavan, the team’s advisor. “In addition to resilience, their passion, and energy for the next era of human exploration were on full display as they navigated the various stages of the project.”

NASA describes MINDS, which stands for the MUREP Innovative New Designs for Space, as a hands-on collegiate learning experience rather than a competition. Teams from across the U.S. are tasked with creating a project that addresses a technological need for the Artemis mission, which would send astronauts back to the moon.

This year’s award ceremony was hosted virtually. Astronaut Winston Scott served as keynote speaker and he also announced the award winners.

Students who participated in the NASA MINDS event
The UCF team

Meeting of the NASA Minds

Thirty-five teams from more than 30 universities competed in this year’s activities. The teams are divided into two divisions: senior teams, which include groups that have at least one member of senior standing; and underclassmen teams, which are comprised of only underclassmen.

UCF competed in the senior division with students Vanessa D’Esposito, Perla Latorre Suarez, Nya Segura-Watson, Rohan Madathil and Felix Morales. For their project, LunarMakes3D designed a 3D printer to manufacture nanocomposite sensors that can detect stress and structural damage in space.

“Monitoring the structural integrity of any component is important here on Earth and in space. Some items are 3D printed in space environments,” Suarez said. “However, there is a challenge in determining if the printed objects will perform the intended job. 3D printing sensors that can be applied to these structures will ensure safe and more efficient missions.”

Suarez served as the team leader, a role that that taught her just as much as the project itself.

“Leading the LunarMakes3D team helped me to grow as an engineer and as a person,” she said. “I learned the importance of persistence and communication while leading a team. It’s been a great learning experience.”

MINDS is sponsored by NASA’s Minority University Research Program (MUREP), which strives to ensure that students from underrepresented groups can participate in space research. The research experience is only open to students who attend Minority Serving Institutions.