Howard University Partners on Smart Habitat Research Funded by $15M NASA Grant

Illustration of the Interior of a deep space habitat. Credit: NASA

The Howard University Department of Architecture faculty and students are part of a seven-university team funded by a $15 million NASA grant. The grant establishes the Habitats Optimized for Missions of Exploration (HOME) Space Technology Research Institute for Deep Space Habitat Design, one of two space technology research institutes selected by NASA in 2019. The HOME team is led by the University of California at Davis and includes partners at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, the University of Southern California, and Texas A&M University. Corporate partners are Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Technologies Aerospace Systems.

Howard University will receive $500,000 over the five-year grant period. The principal investigator at Howard University is Architecture Department Chair and Professor Hazel R. Edwards, PhD. Together with Assistant Professor Dahlia Nduom, Dr. Edwards and selected architecture students will support the project to sustain human presence in space. Dr. Edwards also serves on the HOME Steering Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the project and providing guidance.

The smart habitat research will dovetail with research from other current NASA projects to develop smart habitat technologies. According to the NASA press release, “the HOME institute’s design approach for deep space habitats is one that relies not only on proven engineering and risk analysis, but also on emergent technologies to enable resilient, autonomous and self-maintained habitats for human explorers.” The key is to develop new paradigms for the design of NASA’s deep-space habitats.

In Fall 2019, Dr. Edwards and Assistant Professor Nduom teamed with six architecture students to embark on research to translate what it means to transition from dwelling in a terrestrial condition to living in a zero-gravity scenario. Third-year students Isabella Adekoya, Ebubechukwu “Joshua” Ajayi, Solomon Alverez-Gibson and Jenna Greer, along with fourth year students Alyssa Jenkins and Maya Thornton, explored innovative ways to apply architectural principles of terrestrial dwellings to space habitats. A point of departure for their work was the application of the Design Thinking Process (research, analyze, ideate, prototype) to determine the impact of such factors as territoriality, mental health, and functionality on the designed environment which also increased the student’s understanding and critical evaluation of a situation that is not typically addressed within the architecture design realm.

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