A 12-year-old engineer from Ashburn, Virginia, is looking ahead to 2050 — when, with any luck, astronauts will have landed on Mars and begun growing their own food.
On Tuesday, the Future Engineers program announced that Eagle Ridge Middle School seventh-grader Nagasai Sreyash Sola was a grand-prize winner of its “Star Trek” Replicator Challenge, which asked kids to design a 3-D printable, food-related object that astronauts could use in the year 2050.
In the “Star Trek” television shows and movies, space cadets frequently take advantage of a machine called a replicator, which creates objects on demand. Modern 3-D printers can’t create glasses of hot tea from scratch the way replicators can, but they can be used to build tools, bowls and other hard objects. NASA sent a 3-D printer to the International Space Station in 2014, paving the way for astronauts to make all sorts of devices in space or on another planet such as Mars.
Sreyash won the competition’s junior division, for kids ages 5 through 12, with a design for the Astro Martian Mini Farm, which would allow astronauts to grow food on Mars.
“Mars’s atmosphere is a thousand times thinner than Earth,” he says, so he included a pump that allows astronauts to pressurize the container to a level that allows plants to grow.
The farm could be made from most any translucent (see-through) material, Sreyash says, possibly even from something found on the Martian surface. In model form, it looks a bit like a tea kettle topped with a serving tray — a magnifying glass, it turns out, that focuses sunlight on the plants inside. An opening in the kettle portion allows astronauts to recover, and use, oxygen that the plants release into the air.
Sreyash was a semifinalist in two previous Future Engineers contests, which are put on through a collaboration between NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation.
A new contest, the Think Outside the Box Challenge, asks kids to design a useful, printable object for astronauts that expands or can be assembled. Its deadline is August 1. Winners receive a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they’ll tour Bigelow Aerospace and learn about expandable aircraft.
Four hundred and five kids submitted their 3-D designs to Future Engineers’ “Star Trek” challenge this spring. Two Northern Virginia kids — Nora Mullen of Quantico and Max Budiman of Reston — were among the 10 semifinalists in the junior division. Nora designed a “SpaceBowl” that prevents salads and other foods from floating away while astronauts eat in space. Max, like Sreyash, designed a container that astronauts could use to grow plants on Mars.
Navya Annapareddy, of Haymarket, Virginia, was one of four finalists in the teen division. She designed a system that would allow astronauts on Mars to grow plants and animals in water, without soil. Kyle Corrette, of Phoenix, Arizona, won the division with a device that uses radiation in space to grow an edible fungus, providing a food source for astronauts making long journeys through the solar system.
All of the finalists received 3-D printers for their schools. The winners, Sreyash and Kyle, will travel to New York City later this month to tour space shuttle Enterprise with retired astronaut Mike Massimino. They’ll also visit the Brooklyn headquarters of MakerBot, a 3-D printing company, and receive a pancake printer called PancakeBot.
Sreyash, who talked to KidsPost by phone right after leaving tennis camp, said he wants “to help future generations and the community when he grows up” — as an engineer, and as a tennis player.
With the Future Engineers contest out of the way, he’s got time to tweak another project he’s been working on: a device that uses sound- and light-sensors to help blind people navigate their surroundings. He already presented it at the National Maker Faire in Washington last month.