VIDEO: NASA, Engineering Students Collaborate on Space-bound Furniture

Under NASA’s guidance, a group of mechanical engineering students has developed a prototype chair and table for potential use in other planets.

Source: Rice University

From left to right: Laura Blumenschein, Alex Schmidt, Archit Chaba and Rey Amendola  
Source: Rice University

There are no Ikea stores on Mars (yet), but interestingly there are engineers creating furniture for other planets. Under NASA’s guidance, a group of mechanical engineering students has developed a prototype chair for use in spacecraft and potentially outside of Earth on planets and moons.

The group’s red-colored chair, designed for long-term missions, can accommodate users between 5 ft and 6’2″ ft. It could come in handy where maximum flexibility is vital. “You’re going to have very limited space, so you can’t just send any furniture up,” explained group member Laura Blumenschein, a Rice University student. “And then you’ve got the partial gravity.”

The five-person team had to create gravity-friendly furniture while keeping in mind weight and strength requirements. That’s one of the reasons they selected high-grade aluminum, which offers strength and low weight. “We can make our furniture a lot lighter, a lot less strong (than Earth-bound designs),” Blumenschein said. “That sounds like a bad thing, but if you’re trying to reduce weight, that’s a good thing when you’re sending things to space.”

In addition to a chair, the students have also developed a table – both are capable of folding out for travelling purposes. Gas springs give the table adjustability in height, while connectinglinks have been added to allow them to be paired with each other. 

Collaborating with NASA 

“Part of our mission requirement was to focus on the daily activities of the astronauts and not their sleep habits or anything like that,” fellow group member Ray Amendola said. “When we thought about what astronauts do every day and what kind of furniture they need, we narrowed down the scope of the project to chairs for sitting and tables for working, relaxing or for mealtimes.”

To keep the furniture secure in low-gravity environments, the table and the chair can be floor-mounted. The latter boasts pin-and-hole mechanisms meant for customizing the seat and allowing for a knee rest component. Additionally, the chair boasts zero gravity-enabled restraining footrests.

The students worked on the furniture as part of their final-year capstone project. They were mentored by a number of NASA representatives, including astronaut and engineer Nancy Currie. “Ultimately, we’re just brainstorming the first prototypes,” said Rice engineering student Dan Peera. “Hopefully they’ll take this design and experiment further to finalize it and eventually get it up into orbit.”

Source: Rice University