Step 1: Hitchhike to Mars, Step 2: Turn up the heat
Two University of Arizona students – a Tucson native with a history of science achievement and “an Army brat” from El Paso, Texas, who took her first college science course on a lark – have won prestigious NASA fellowships.
Rigel Woida, 24, and Daniella Della-Giustina, 19, are among only five to receive NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts Student Fellows Prizes worth $9,000 each. The students will investigate revolutionary ideas for space exploration.
Woida, an optical sciences and engineering senior, will study the use of large aperture, lightweight mirrors to form a reflector in orbit around Mars.
His project, to be supervised by optical sciences professor Eustace Dereniak and assistant research professor Robert M. Stone, is called “The Road to Mars.”
It seeks to create an ambient-air temperature on Mars similar to that of Earth’s to enable people to live and explore there. Orbiting balloons made of a reflective metallized polyester would collect sunlight and shine it down over about 150 acres.
“I adjusted the aperture so the reflector would heat … (the) surface to roughly Tucson daytime illumination and temperatures, said Woida, a Tucson High graduate who was honored several times in high school for his science-fair projects and his work studying astronomy from an observatory on the school’s Science and Technology building.
“Eventually, using techniques like these, humans might cultivate plants on Mars,” said Woida, who works full-time as a staff technician at UA’s Lunar and Planetary Lab. His father, Patrick Woida, is an LPL test engineer on the Phoenix Mission to Mars that launches next year.
Nineteen-year-old junior Daniella Della-Giustina admits she didn’t start college with stars in her eyes, but after one class in astronomy at the University of Texas at El Paso, she was hooked on space science.
She came to enjoy astronomy so much that she transferred after one year from UTEP to UA, which is internationally known for its astronomy programs, she said.
The teen, a self-described Army brat, is the daughter of an Army officer stationed at Fort Bliss.
She already is working on the Phoenix Mission, her salary funded by a NASA internship. She will use her NICA prize to research the feasibility of “hitchhiking” from Earth to Mars on an asteroid.
Della-Giustina’s project is entitled “The Martian Bus Schedule: An Innovative Technique for Protecting Humans on a Journey to Mars.”
Dante Lauretta, an assistant professor at LPL, will supervise Della-Giustina, an engineering physics major, on the project.
“It seems like actually hitching a ride on an asteroid could work,” she said. “It would be co-orbiting.”
The travelers would use the regolith (soil or dust materials) on the asteroid as an insulator, she said. It would be a little bus to Mars.
“There have been ideas tossed around about using lunar regolith to shield astronauts on the moon,” she explained. And using Mars’ regolith has been mentioned as protection for humans there.
“It’s high in hydrogen content, and we think it could help shield cosmic radiation and solar radiation,” she said. “It depends on the chemical content of the material.
“That’s part of my proposal, to find the exact chemical composition, then expose it to radiation to see how effective it would be,” she noted. “All the current systems proposed for shielding cosmic radiation have kind of been yielded infeasible.
“They are either too heavy to launch into space, or they are inefficient in an area that could potentially harm humans,” she explained.
Della-Giustina already has a list of prospective asteroids that cross both Earth’s and Mars’ orbits. “There are a ton of those that do that occurring in the next 50 years,” she said.