Seven students in NASA crew t-shirts standing against a wall and wearing face masks.

Moon shot: engineering students create device for NASA

For the fifth consecutive year, Grand Valley engineering students competed nationally and successfully produced a prototype device that might someday be used by astronauts.

Seven students, nicknamed the "Moon Miners," competed in the Micro-g NExT Design Challenge, sponsored by NASA. David Kavalauskas, who earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in August, said NASA asked teams to create a device that would allow astronauts to retrieve a core sample from the moon. 

The Moon Miners worked throughout the Winter semester on their prototype. Jenna Stolzman, another recent graduate, said the device had a handle and a lever on the side to pick up and release samples.

The device was tested — with devices from other collegiate teams — at the Johnson Space Center's underwater testing pool in Houston, Texas. Previous Grand Valley teams had opportunities to travel to Houston to watch NASA staff members in action; because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Moon Miners gave directions to NASA divers virtually.

Two people are underwater in a tank with big rocks on the bottom. They are in scuba suits; one has a tool to drill into a rock.
The Moon Miners' device was tested at the Johnson Space Center's underwater testing pool in Houston, Texas.
Two people in scuba suits are underwater in a tank and holding a sign that reads GV Moon Miners, with a GVSU logo
Students communicated virtually with divers in the pool for 15 minutes during testing.

"We had 15 minutes on Microsoft Teams to communicate with the diver," Stolzman said.

Stolzman said competing in the challenge was time consuming but valuable to add NASA experience to a resume.

"It's an amazing word: NASA," Stolzman said. "It's eye-catching for employers and for me to put on my graduate school applications; being a part of this team does create opportunities."

Kavalauskas said the Moon Miners also discussed their project with STEM classes at Reeths-Puffer High School in Muskegon and during a session at the Roger That! Conference in February.

Other team members were Chad Brown, Connor Kos, Cianna Janicke, Paul Eggerding and Daniel Weller. Sanjivan Manoharan, assistant professor of engineering, was the faculty advisor.