Two teams of Clemson University undergraduates are creating devices that could smooth sharp edges on the outside of the International Space Station, making spacewalks safer for astronauts.

The two Clemson teams were among 25 across the nation to advance to the testing phase in NASA’s Micro-g NExT program. Each will have a chance this spring to test their devices in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6.2-million gallon pool at Johnson Space Center in Houston where astronauts train for spacewalks.

The Clemson Micro-g NExT teams include (from left to right) Kim Hennigan, Nick Spivey, William Pierce, Michael Furgeson, Sam Borel, Hallie Stidman, Melanie Hedge, Stephen Miller, and Will Oldham.

The Clemson Micro-g NExT teams include (from left to right) Kimberly Hennning, Nick Spivey, William Pierce, Michael Furgeson, Sam Borel, Hallie Stidhman, Melanie Hedge, Stephen Miller, and Will Oldham.
Image Credit: Paul Alongi

“The tools designed for Micro-g NExT address an authentic, current space exploration challenge,” according to NASA. “Upon successful testing, these student-designed tools have the possibility of being used for future NASA exploration missions.”

Both Clemson teams, Team B-Unique and Tune Squad, are addressing the same challenge.

Handrails used by astronauts on the outside of the International Space Station can develop sharp edges when they get dinged by micrometeoroids and orbital debris. The sharp edges can be dangerous because they could cut part of the spacesuit, particularly the gloves.

Team B-Unique is developing a device it is calling the Cheese Grater that would roll along the handrails to detect and repair sharp edges. Tune Squad’s device, called Edge B’ Gone, would use pneumatic cylinders to clamp onto the handrails and then use rollers to flatten the sharp edges.

The teams started by brainstorming in the second week of the school year and then came up with proposals. They work on their prototypes in the CEDAR lab in the Fluor Daniel Engineering Innovation Building.

Melanie Hedge, a sophomore majoring in bioengineering, is the team lead for Team B-Unique. Sam Borel, a sophomore chemical engineering major, is the team lead for the Tune Squad.

Team B-Unique consists of Hedge, Morgan Perras, Stephen Miller, William Oldham and Dylan Cassell. Tune Squad’s members are Borel, Nick Spivey, William Pierce, Michael Furgeson , Kimberly Henning, and Meredith Sutton.

The teams are advised by graduate student Hallie Stidham and Professor Joshua Summers, both of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

To see a complete list of schools in Micro-g NExT and to learn more about the program, go to https://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov/. You can follow on social media @NASAedu and #MicrogNExT.

Micro-g NExT is managed by the Office of Education at Johnson Space Center. The program helps support the agency’s education policy of using NASA’s unique missions and programs to engage and encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math.

You can follow Team B-Unique on Instagram at @clemsonmicrog or their website at https://mrbridg.wixsite.com/clemsonunivmicrogb. You can find Tune Squad on Instagram @ tunesquad_clemson and Facebook at ClemsonTuneSquad.