Text: Arja Hautala
Photo: Tiina Suvanto

Look to the sky. The group of NASA’s Epic Challenges students. Svetlana Rybina on the right. Photo: Tiina Suvanto

Look to the sky. The group of NASA’s Epic Challenge students. Svetlana Rybina on the right.

“I was attracted by the topic: sustaining humans on Mars. Something completely new and different from what I have done before.”

Svetlana Rybina is one of 20 TAMK students taking part in NASA’s Epic Challenge programme.

Tell a bit about yourself

My name is Svetlana Rybina, I am 20 years old and I am an international student from Russia studying Energy and Environmental Engineering for the third year. This is my first degree and I am really happy that I got to TAMK, because I am having a great and interesting time here.

What made you join this space programme?

I heard about NASA’s Epic Challenge in April 2016. I was attracted by the topic: sustaining humans on Mars. Something completely new and different from what I have done before. The Epic Challenge programme seemed very colourful, promising to teach a lot about Mars and space in general.
I wanted to try building prototypes, make experiments, be involved with “space industry” as I have always found it interesting to watch movies or scientific programmes about other planets. I was sure that if I came across this project I should not miss the chance to work in collaboration with NASA, contact real astronauts, and ask them questions.

What have you learnt during this project?

Our team Marsesters worked on construction of a Mars chamber which simulates the Martian temperature range and low pressure. We managed to make one prototype which is easy and relatively cheap to build. It is not so good as we would like it to be, due to lack of funding and time, but anyway it can be used to test different products or devices meant for use on Mars.

Apart from theoretical knowledge about Mars, space, and current technologies we learnt to use methods for assessing risks. But I am mostly glad for the practical skills which I gained during the prototype construction and testing. I was so lucky to have my teammates from whom to learn!
They were really clever mechanical, production and IT engineering students full of ideas. Their work experience helped our project a lot. I also noticed that after several months of working, discussing, arguing, explaining, assembling and joking with them, I started to think more in the engineering way, which benefits me beyond this project as well.

What is the most interesting thing in this project?

Testing is definitely the most interesting part. Actually assembling the systems is pretty fascinating, but experimenting is the most exciting. In this phase you can really see the result of your work and it always gives you background for future improvement. No matter if you fail or succeed, experimenting makes you go further and continue working. Of course, it is sad if expectations are not fulfilled, but it means you will not make the same mistake next time.

I also think that the final presentation of our chamber will be interesting. I would like to hear comments from Charles Camarda, a NASA astronaut, who is the supervisor of this project.

Do you want to fly to Mars some day?

Personally, I do not want. The general idea is awesome and I want humans to fly to Mars some day, because our Earth is very well explored and we need to broaden our horizons, look for hidden resources on other planets. The status of “multiplanetary species” sounds very cool, in my view, and I would not participate in this challenge if I would be against the idea.

During the project, I have learnt enough about Martian environment to understand that it is not suitable for people now. Huge amount of work should be done to create systems and equipment for humans to stay safe on a planet where you cannot breathe and which has great temperature differences, low pressure, radiation, dust, perchlorates and many other nasty things. Best scenarios predict visit to Mars by the end of 2020s.

Such a project requires lots of resources and poses many problems. As an environmental engineer, I believe we first need to solve main problems of the Earth (in particular the energy source problem) and then with a clear conscience go to Mars. To be honest, I am not brave enough to be one of the testers of new technologies several millions of kilometres away from other people. I think that Mars flights and its colonization are more for future generations and we need to make investigations and invent technologies, which will let to sustain humans out of the Earth safely not only for them but for other planets as well.

TAMK’s NASA project

The cooperation between NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA), TAMK, and other Finnish organisations began last autumn when NASA contacted TAMK for developing innovations to enable manned Mars flights.

In the academic year 2016–2017 students solve extreme challenges related to colonisation of Mars and learn to use NASA’s innovation processes and methods. A total of 20 students from TAMK under the supervision of their teachers Antti Perttula and Tomi Salo participate in NASA’s Epic Challenge programme.

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