Life + Arts

UH students assist NASA

Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture at UH’s Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture has two of three contracts with NASA requiring students to build living conditions for a 30-day lunar mission, where up to four people are able to live and work in a safe and limited environment.

SICSA is the only program in the world that has worked on space architecture and architecture dealing with various extreme living conditions for the past 30 years.

‘We create designs that can be used in space for different types of missions, and how every aspect of that design has to be taken into consideration, from how to send that material into space and being able to live in it afterwards,’ SICSA director Larry Bell said.

SICSA has been asked to collaborate by various programs from around the world and to help companies build structures designed to withstand extreme conditions.

‘SICSA is not only a unique program at the University of Houston, but it is a unique program in the world,’ Bell said.’ ‘We have worked on space architecture, as well as underwater architecture, polar architecture and et cetera.’

SICSA focuses on every aspect of a living environment.’ Students, teachers and companies involved in these projects have to worry about launching, landing and construction costs of the environment.

‘We are working with two companies, Boeing and ILC Dover, which are competing against each other to present different concepts to NASA,’ Bell said.’ ‘NASA and both companies are aware of our situation, and we try our best not to overlap ideas, and help both companies come up with different concepts.’

SICSA works on developing all internal and exterior parts of the building facilities that can be used in multiple ways.

SICSA also designs environments that accommodate the dangers and limitations of those living and working in space.

‘We have to create a module that can also provide a shield from a solar storm, protection from meteor damage and radiation,’ Bell said.’ ‘Also, it is hard to work and move around in a space suit, so we take those restrictions into consideration and figure out the quickest way for the astronauts to get into safety.’

SICSA also tries to find other elements to use in forming protection.

‘We have tried to come up with ways to use water as a part of our design, and also see if lunar soil can be some help,’ Bell said.

After a design is finished, it is taken to the company for approval and to determine any further steps that need to be taken.

‘We worked on a project that was presented to NASA and has been approved.’ Now it is on its way to Washington to be presented,’ Bell said.

SICSA has worked with and is continuously being invited by many programs and universities from around the world to develop ideas in mutual areas of work.’ ‘We work very actively with other universities from around the world to develop research dealing with extreme environments and conditions,’ Bell said.

SICSA is usually working with many programs at once, but there are times when there may not be a project work on assigned from a company such as NASA.

‘When we don’t have a specific project to work on, we create ideas to get ahead of the curve,’ Bell said.’ ‘We try to see where NASA is going or might be going in the future.’

SICSA has also been self-supporting for the last 30 years, receiving gifts and grants from other programs in the U.S. as well as around the world.

‘The University pays very little for our program,’ Bell said.’ ‘Once we received a $3 million gift from Japan, no strings attached, because of our name. Sasakawa was the name of a Japanese philanthropist.’

SICSA also receives money from the professors themselves in order to get facilities for the projects.

‘There are times we pay out of pocket for the facilities that we use,’ research assistant professor Olga Bannova said. ‘Many of the computers, even the chairs we sit on, we use our own money to raise funds for the center.’

In the past, the center has worked on various projects for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Mars Rover project.

‘We have mostly worked with government projects, but it is hard to say that we designed this or we designed that,’ Bell said. ‘Lots of people are involved with each project at one time.’

Graduate students with undergraduate degrees in programs such as aerospace, physics and architecture, and who have also had professional work experience become a part of this program.

‘I was a glorified driver’s education instructor for space, but I wanted to come here to learn the design aspect other than just the operations in NASA,’ said Luke Schmik, instructor for the space shuttle program at NASA.

Fifth-year architecture undergraduate students have the opportunity to work on these projects as well.

‘I took the opportunity to be a part of this because I wanted to be able to learn all aspects of design, and not just how to build houses,’ architecture senior Cristal Popoca said.

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