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University of North Dakota Tests NASA Funded Experimental Planetary Space Suit

Press Release From: University of North Dakota
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2006

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UND Spacesuit Testing Blog

6 May 2006: An enterprising team of North Dakota college students is set to unveil a brand new space suit at a rugged, Mars-like North Dakota Badlands test site this week. The multi-institution group comprises students and their faculty advisors from the University of North Dakota, the North Dakota State College of Science, Turtle Mountain Community College, North Dakota State University, and Dickinson State University.

"Our college students here in North Dakota can do amazing things---this project showcases this local talent with a cutting-edge, high-tech project," says Shan de Silva, chair of UND Department of Space Studies, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, and principal investigator on the space suit project. "A lot of people thought we were crazy to undertake this project---but its success unequivocally testifies to the hard work, perseverance, creativity, and ingenuity of North Dakota's young people."

Project manager Pablo de Leon, an Argentine-born aerospace engineer and veteran space suit designer, says the multilayered North Dakota Experimental Planetary Space Suit, or NDEPSS, is entirely and meticulously hand-crafted by students with a variety of skills, including a team at the ND State College of Science that machined to exacting tolerances the rings that join various parts of the suit together. The NDEPSS project was funded last year by a $100,000 NASA Aerospace Workforce Development grant following a proposal that was identified by NASA officials as one of the top three of the 52 submitted.

"A space suit is essentially a self-contained spacecraft," says de Leon, who coordinated the NASA-funded work of the various student teams that resulted in the product that will be tested in the Badlands. "But it's not rocket science to build it---what it takes is a lot of very painstaking work---really, it's more of an art than engineering." He notes, for example, that all of the composite parts, including the molds for components such as the suit's torso, was fabricated by hand by a team of UND students. The suit is a prototype for the next generation of planetary suits that NASA will need to realize its vision. Several patents have already been applied for.

Student "astronauts" this week will don the suit and put it through rigorous paces in the rough Badlands terrain that resembles the rocky surface of Mars, de Leon explains.

"This is really a big team effort and the success is a testament to the talented human capital here in North Dakota," says de Silva. "There really isn't anything that we can't accomplish here when we set our minds to it---and we're really eager and ready to be part of a future national space exploration effort."

The public is invited to view the prototype Mars suit (weather permitting) at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 6, at the test site near Fryburg, N.D. Directions to the test site: From 1-94, take Exit 36 (the Fryburg exit) and turn north; turn left on the frontage road, and follow this road to a y-intersection, and stay left. The test site is on the east side of the road just past a ranching operation. It is 7.5 miles from 1-94 to the test site.

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