The Space Exploration Initiative helps analysis throughout and past MIT in two microgravity flights this spring.

By Sarah Beckmann | MIT Media Lab

As a not-so-distant future that features area tourism and other people dwelling off-planet approaches, the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative is designing and researching the actions people will pursue in new, weightless environments. 

Since 2017, the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) has orchestrated common parabolic flights by means of the ZERO-G Research Program to check experiments that depend on microgravity. This May, the SEI supported researchers from the Media Lab; MIT’s departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro), Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and Mechanical Engineering; MIT Kavli Institute; the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology; the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University; the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media at Yale University; the multi-affiliated Szostak Laboratory, and the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology to fly 22 completely different initiatives exploring analysis as various as fermentation, reconfigurable area buildings, and the search for life in area. 

Most of those initiatives resulted from the 2019 or 2020 iterations of MAS.838 / 16.88 (Prototyping Our Space Future) taught by Ariel Ekblaw, SEI founder and director, who started instructing the category in 2018. (Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 flight was postponed, main to 2 cohorts being flown this 12 months.)

“The course is intentionally titled ‘Prototyping our Sci-Fi Space Future,’” she says, “because this flight opportunity that SEI wrangles, for labs across MIT, is meant to incubate and curate the future artifacts for life in space and robotic exploration — bringing the Media Lab’s uniqueness, magic, and creativity into the process.” 

The class prepares researchers for the realities of parabolic flights, which includes conducting experiments briefly, 20-second bursts of zero gravity. As the course continues to supply hands-on analysis and logistical preparation, and as extra of those flights are executed, the initiatives themselves are demonstrating rising ambition and maturity. 

“Some students are repeat flyers who have matured their experiments, and [other experiments] come from researchers across the MIT campus from a record number of MIT departments, labs, and centers, and some included alumni and other external collaborators,” says Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s vp for analysis and SEI college advisor. “In short, there was stiff competition to be selected, and some of the experiments are sufficiently far along that they’ll soon be suitable for spaceflight.” 

Dream massive, design daring 

Both the 2020 and 2021 flight cohorts included daring new experiments that talk to SEI’s distinctive give attention to analysis throughout disciplines. Some look to capitalize on the benefits of microgravity, whereas others search to assist discover methods of dwelling and dealing with out the power that governs each second of life on Earth. 



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