Oct 28, 2016 | By Tess

NASA’s Future Engineers program has just launched its fifth space innovation challenge: the Mars Medical Challenge. Like its pervious challenges, the online education platform is asking students K-12 to put their minds to work to create innovative 3D printable models that could be used by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). This time around, however, Future Engineers is calling for 3D printable models of medical or dental objects that could help astronauts to maintain their physical health while they are on long three-year missions to Mars.

More specifically, the Mars Medical Challenge is seeking 3D models which could help with a range of medical applications, such as diagnostic, preventative, first aid, emergency, surgical and/or dental uses. The contest, which launched October 27th, is accepting applications from students until January 25, 2017.

As one can imagine, being in space for extended periods of time has a toll on astronauts’ bodies, and raises many health questions. Being in no or very low gravity environments, for instance, has resulted in the decrease of mass and density of astronauts’ bones, which makes exercise and resistance training all the more important in space.

As Deanne Bell, CEO and founder of Future Engineers explains, “As NASA continues to investigate how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, radiation and stress that occur on long duration spaceflight, Future Engineers is eager to engage students with a real-world space exploration challenge that focuses on health-related hardware and how a 3D printer can assist astronauts facing a medical scenario during a Mars mission.”

Like Future Engineers’ previous four challenges, it is free for students across the U.S. to participate in the Mars Medical Challenge. Additionally, participants will not have to send in an actual 3D printed model of their object, only a 3D file, which can be assessed by the judges. In terms of criteria, the model must stay within size constraints of  6in x 6in x 6in, must take into account Mars’ gravity (1/3 of ours), and must be 100% 3D printable. More in depth guidelines can be found here.

At the end of the contest, two winners will be selected, one from the junior age group (5 to 12) and one from the teen age group (12 to 19). They will be the recipients of a trip to Houston, Texas for a tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center where they will learn about Mars exploration and space medicine. The top four finalists from each age group will also be able to donate a Replicator Mini+ 3D printer to their school, local library, or other educational organization of choice, thanks to a partnership with MakerBot. Winners of the Mars Medical Challenge will be announced on March 28, 2017.

The Future Engineers contest series, which has so far generated a useful 3D printed multi-tool, many ideas for 3D printed expandable objects, and more, is promoting NASA’s “make it, don’t take it” philosophy. 3D printing technology has been a crucial part of this more economical approach, as NASA is seeking to develop and establish a 3D printing Fabrication Laboratory (aka Fab Lab) in space. So far, NASA has made headlines for having sent two 3D printers to the ISS, one of which has already 3D printed its first parts.

 

 

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