HAMPTON, Va. – Fifteen teams have made it to the finals of a NASA and National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) sponsored competition that challenged university students to think about the conditions astronauts will face when we return to the moon, then design projects that could become part of real lunar exploration.

The undergraduate and graduate engineering students won the right to compete against each other at the 2009 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage or RASC-AL forum to be held in Cocoa Beach, Fla., June 1-4.

“The RASC-AL steering committee of NASA and industry experts was impressed by the creativity, ingenuity and thoughtfulness of this year’s student entries,” said Pat Troutman, senior systems analyst at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “Next generation engineers are going to be crucial in helping NASA get back to the moon, then go onto Mars and beyond.”

The five graduate student teams include University of Texas in Austin; University of Maryland, College Park; a joint effort from University of Florida in Gainesville and Arizona State University, Tempe; and two Georgia Tech groups that reside at NIA.

Ten undergraduate student teams made the cut. They are from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden; Arizona State University; a combination of Penn State in State College, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, Brooklyn, and Georgia Tech, Atlanta; University of Maryland; Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY; University of Alabama in Huntsville; Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.; North Carolina State University, Raleigh; and a North Carolina State University team that resides at NIA.

The student teams submitted a summary of and an outreach plan for their proposed projects. Their work was based on one of four themes: outpost to settlement, initial lunar outpost, bringing the world along with virtual exploration and novel approaches to increase sample return from the moon.

The teams must submit a written report, prepare a poster and give an oral presentation at the RASC-AL forum. The steering committee will score the students’ work and award first and second prizes in undergraduate and graduate categories. To cover costs of travel, registration and incidentals each team receives $5,875.

“NIA is impressed by the quality of proposed design projects and we anticipate a highly competitive forum,” said Dr. Bernard Grossman, vice president of education and outreach at NIA. “RASC-AL is a great venue to identify today’s university students’ grasp of engineering concepts.”

The June forum will give faculty and students the chance to meet with NASA and industry experts, introduce concepts and data from the competition into NASA exploration program planning, develop relationships that could lead to participation in other NASA student research programs and show the benefits of NASA-university-industry cooperation.

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