Flying rovers may someday explore Saturn’s moon, Titan, thanks to futuristic aerial vehicle designs submitted by top minority university students for a nationwide NASA design contest.

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., recently announced that a student team from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) submitted the winning design for NASA’s Titan VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) Design Contest 2003. The contest invited minority student teams from across the country to design an aerial vehicle that will be capable of exploring Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. On Aug. 7-8, 2003, members of the winning CSULA team will present their design to a panel of experts in the fields of VTOL vehicles and planetary exploration at NASA Ames. 

“I was truly impressed by the quality of the proposed designs. The results of this competition help to bring the exciting concept of planetary exploration using autonomous aerial vehicles closer to reality. Congratulations to all of the competitors and especially to the CSULA Team,” said Ed Aiken, chief of the Rotorcraft Division at NASA Ames.

CSULA students Uche Ofoma, Shigeru Matsuyama, Josue Cruz, Josh Ward, Chunlei He and Amir Massoudi, and faculty advisor Dr. Chivey Wu from the school’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, designed an innovative aerial vehicle capable of piercing the thick haze that envelops Titan to explore one of the solar system’s most mysterious objects. Titan is the only moon in our solar system that has a substantial atmosphere, believed to be similar to the atmosphere of early Earth.

A team from the University of Texas, El Paso, placed second and students from Alabama A&M University came in third. The contest is designed to encourage minority students to continue their interest in science, technology, and space exploration with students being encouraged to share and present their ideas at student conferences.

Future missions, possibly using student VTOL designs, will build upon the 2004 NASA and European Space Agency’s Cassini space mission to Saturn and the Huygens atmospheric probe to Titan. The development of a VTOL vehicle can potentially present a significant value to future follow-on scientific missions beyond the Cassini and Huygens mission.

The NASA Ames Equal Opportunity Programs Office provided funding for the Titan VTOL Design Contest workshops through a cooperative agreement through NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Program and Integrated Space Technologies, Inc of Huntsville, Ala. The Rotorcraft Division at NASA Ames provided the student teams with technical support at design workshops at NASA Ames and over the Internet.

“We were very pleased to offer this opportunity to outstanding minority students from various universities throughout the country. Students who could potentially be our ‘researchers of tomorrow’,” said Adriana Cardenas, director of the NASA Ames Equal Opportunity Programs Office.

To view the student design entries and to get more information about the competition, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Program, visit:

For more information about the Rotorcraft Division at NASA Ames, visit: