NASA grant gives Oregon State more money for Mars research

NASA grant gives Oregon State more money for Mars research

EUGENE, Ore. - Oregon State University is the winner of another big grant from NASA for work that could put a human on Mars.

If a manned flight to Mars ever comes about, engineers will have to figure out a better way to get heat out of the spacecraft - a project that OSU engineers are working on.

Oregon State is the winner of a new $500-thousand grant from the space agency.

The award makes another point in the longstanding history between NASA and OSU. The University's research on the atmosphere of Mars played a huge role in the landing of the Mars rover.

Now, the engineers are tackling a new problem.

Associate professor of mechanical engineering, Vinod Narayanan, said that the root of the problems is the excessive heat generated in the spacecraft by computers, cameras, electronics, humans.

"It can become fairly hot for humans to exist in the spacecraft, so it's very important to dissipate the heat," explains Narayanan.

The old system depends on battery power and pumps.  Narayanan said it works -- but NASA has charged his team to find a better way.

They're inventing a new material for the cooling system that can sort of, sweat out the heat on its own, using much less power.

Reporter Tom Adams asked Narayanan, "Then more energy can be devoted to the computer and all the other systems?"

Vinod: "Exactly, yes, and this new system will do its job passively and reliably."

It's change that will be critical if and when a long, manned mission to Mars is tried.

Scientists say the technology can even help on a future Mars rover to allow for more instruments--more experiments.

"This concept, if it's developed to fruition, can be used in any spacecraft or even in the Mars rover that's currently on the Martian soil." added Narayanan.

Oregon State is collaborating with engineers at Auburn University (in Alabama) on this new research.