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NASA: Big Idea Challenge

Aug 01, 2020   |   by Julie Bonette   |   Dartmouth Engineer

For the second straight year, a team of Dartmouth engineering students has been named a finalist in NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. For this year’s competition, NASA sought ideas proposals for Lunar rovers that can successfully explore the permanently shadowed regions in and near the Moon polar regions.

The Dartmouth team’s idea—SHREWs: Strategic Highly compliant Roving Explorers of other Worlds—focuses on mobility achieved through a class of robots able to latch on to each other to minimize the chance of getting stuck or having to be rescued. The team took inspiration from the actual mole-like mammals, which latch onto each other’s tails to form a train or caravan and move in an orderly fashion.

“Lunar and planetary exploration is the next frontier, so it’s pretty exciting,” says Laura Ray, professor of engineering and senior associate dean of faculty development at Thayer School.
“I think this is almost a once-in-a-career opportunity, but here we are again, so I’m pretty proud of being a finalist two years in a row.”

Ray served as faculty advisor to last year’s Dartmouth team as well. That group of undergraduates won the 2019 BIG Idea Challenge for their innovative design of a Mars greenhouse that can grow and sustain a crew of astronauts on a future mission to the Red Planet.

Final designs for 2020 will benefit NASA’s Artemis program, an effort to return astronauts to the moon in 2024. Funding—provided in part by NASA’s Game Changing Development program—will be used on projects to help support a sustained presence on the Moon by 2028.

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