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NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division has announced that 10 proposals led by early career employees at eight NASA centers have been selected for two-year projects that will enable new capabilities for deep space human exploration.

Teams submitted proposals to Project Polaris, a new initiative to help NASA’s workforce meet the challenges of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. Project Polaris seeks to fill high-priority capability gaps on deep space missions like Artemis, and introduce new technologies into human exploration flight programs. The program also aims to create opportunities for early career employees across NASA centers to gain experience building and testing flight hardware while developing technologies and reducing risk for future human exploration missions.

Two of the selections came from Marshall Space Flight Center.

The Bioremediation of Microgravity Biofilms and Water Processor Health proposal is led by J.P. Wilson and includes three early career employees. Robust life support systems, especially those that operate without the need for component replacement during a mission, are necessary for continued human space exploration. However, one of the main issues is the risk of biofouling and clogging.

Similar to the gene drive approaches to stop the spread of the Zika virus, this team proposes developing methods that cause the splitting of essential genes for biofilm formation. Results from ground testing will be compared to results in microgravity, and then compared to other technologies. 

The Data Planning and Control Tool proposal is led by Mason Hall and includes six early career employees. As NASA missions and technologies evolve, ground operations will move away from 24/7 manual support, emphasizing the importance of autonomy in ground operations.

The tool will automate planning by merging telemetry, flight control, and procedures into a seamless interface for mission operators. It will also reduce workload, lower the risk for human errors, and provide modularity across programs, such as Gateway and Lunar Surface Ops.

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