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Three Interns Face the Moon … in North Dakota’s Badlands


Catherine Ragin Williams |
August 28, 2019

As NASA plans its own return to the Moon by 2024, three summer interns from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center spent two weeks learning what NASA will encounter when spacesuited boots sink into lunar soil.

The crew of Peter Henson, Stefan Tomović and Jared Peick settled inside the NASA-funded Inflatable Lunar/Mars Habitat, or ILMH, at the University of North Dakota in late May. Now, they are briefing experts about their mission — the seventh for this unique research platform.


Mission Specialist Jared Peick, who was also an intern at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, works on an experiment from NASA’s Johnson Space Center that investigates methods for repairing and replacing 3D-printed habitat tiles. Image Credit: The Human Spaceflight Lab

This high-fidelity simulation was made possible, in part, because of grants through the NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, which provided funding for the habitat and two electrical rovers. Also included in the analog experience were two North Dakota Experimental-2 spacesuits, designed with lunar excursions in mind, for “spacewalking” in the Badlands of North Dakota. The crew recreated a Moon mission scenario, similar to what’s in store for NASA explorers, to address the many challenges that come with living on other worlds.

“The experience helped me develop a better understanding of the complexity of human spaceflight — a deeper realization of all the intricate pieces that need to work together at the same precise moment, all the time — to ensure mission success and crew survival,” Tomović said. 

The 40-foot-long, 10-foot-wide and 8-foot-high ILMH allowed the crew to evaluate cutting-edge technologies, systems and equipment that would facilitate a journey and stay on the Moon. Research encompassed plant-growth systems, planetary geology, autonomous rovers, human psychology, habitat development and spacesuit design.

The habitat, with its rigid frame covered by an inflatable bladder, is strong but malleable. While stowing to a significantly smaller volume (for, say, a spacecraft), it expands to include an interior with four sleeping compartments, a small galley/dining room, bathroom and plenty of space for what really matters: the science.

The most memorable part of the excursion to a conceptual planetary base, for Tomović, was the crew.

“We formed a tight bond through all the training; then, during the mission, the bond grew stronger,” Tomović said. “We were a tightknit group of guys, and that made the experience better and ensured mission success.”

The agency is taking notes.

In the meantime, NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement (OSTEM) and EPSCoR are looking for more opportunities to award grants to jurisdictions that have typically not participated in competitive aerospace or related mission-driven research activities. The University of North Dakota, with its impressive ILMH and array of analog space hardware, is but one example of how an educational community can benefit from the infusion of resources.

For the crew, this experience provided not only incomparable memories, but proficiencies most will never be able to claim on a resume.

“Authentic NASA mission-driven experiences for interns are of paramount importance to the Office of STEM Engagement,” said Dr. Lesley Fletcher with Kennedy’s OSTEM. “This two-week immersive experience was a culminating event for our interns that not only provided valuable data, but (put us) a step closer to achieving the Artemis program.”


Sunrise at the ILMH. Image Credit: The Human Spaceflight Lab

For more information on the ILMH, visit www.human.space.edu or contact Lab Director Dr. Pablo de Leon at pablo.de.leon@und.edu. 

Mission patch.
Mission patch.
The Inflatable Lunar/Mars Habitat as seen from above. Image Credit: The Human Spaceflight Lab
The Inflatable Lunar/Mars Habitat as seen from above. Image Credit: The Human Spaceflight Lab