GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan students will compete in the finals of a nationwide NASA competition in Houston, and the winners will have the opportunity to send food to space and create packaging that can provide nutrition for astronauts.
Four students in the program will be competing in two categories.
Abby Tichelaar and Cole Herring are the team competing with a collapsible container. They are both in the Launch U program with the Kent Intermediate School District and Grand Rapids Community College. The program adds an extra year to high school and allows students to earn their diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.
“I was super, super interested and it sounded like a really cool opportunity,” Tichelaar said.
The collapsible container she and Herring created is designed to be strong enough to make it into space. They are using a honeycomb design with slots in the walls that can hold nutrition bars.
“It’s still like a strong wall but it’s not a solid wall. It saves material,” Herring explained.
The competition is part of the NASA HUNCH program, combining a variety of disciplines from engineering to the culinary arts.
“I am really excited to see what they have to say about it. We did some of our reviews with people from NASA and they were super impressed with what we had come up with,” Tichelaar said.
The prototype was made using 3D printers. It took about 12 hours to make most of the panels. The project plans to use a different material for the final box. That material is being developed by an MSU scientist that can be broken down from packaging into food.
“They can break it down back to the resin and recast it into different panels for any other application or they can derive potassium lactate out of the material and use that to make gummy bears and sports drinks,” Tichelaar said.
GRCC’s Secchia Institute is also working with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Careerline Tech Center, where Katie Bird and Devon Vanderwall will be competing with an Austrian-style steak soup. Werner Absenger, the program director of the Secchia Institute, says the students put in a lot of work completing the project.
“If we place first students can have their recipe prepared by NASA’s Johnson Space Center and actually flown to the International Space Station,” Absenger said.
All four students will travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to compete on April 19 and 20.