NASA Lab supporting space exploration with new ideas, prototypes

 In a small corner of the Kennedy Space Center where astronauts once trained for missions to the moon, a group of 20 NASA scientists and engineers work in a new lab, with old school style.

"In a couple of days we made an asteroid boulder for pretty cheap" says Jack Fox the director of NASA's Swamp Works Innovation Lab at KSC. 

Fox says the over arching theme of the lab is coming up with ways to detect, extract, and use resources in space. That's important technology NASA needs to develop for its stated goal of sending astronauts to Mars. 

"If explorers had to bring their own food and water and everything they would have needed, they would have gone about a hundred miles inland" says Fox, referring to early American explorers.

Fox says many of the 30 projects his team is working on may one day give future space explorers the tools to survive on another planet. For example, the extreme access project is experimenting with flying swarms of robots that look like unmanned drones to find water ice at far away locations.

A microgravity excavator is another example. It was cleverly built so that it wouldn't float away while digging for resources in a low gravity environment.

"If you are in microgravity you would just bounce off of things every time you dig" he explains. But if you balance forces, very carefully, you can excavate and transport material."

Started in 2013, Swamp Works is unique in how fast and sometimes how cheaply their ideas move from brainstorming sessions in a conference room, to real live prototypes in the lab.

An electromagnetic dust shield prototype uses electrostatic forces to throw harmfully abrasive moon or mars dust off of any surface. 

"On the moon or phobos, where there's no humidity, dust is a problem. It's very clingy, and it would gum up any kind of mechanism" says Fox. 

Fox says he's excited about the upcoming 5th Annual International Lunar Surface Applications Workshop running from April 14 to the 17th in Cocoa Beach. He says the lab will representatives speaking about projects they are working on, and how they may also help commercial companies in their quest to mine resources on the moon. 
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