MOFFETFIELD, Calif - 04 January 12
Dominic Gutierrez: Intern Supports Sustainable Space Water System
Heather L. Ogletree
As the world’s resources are slowly diminishing, more importance has been placed on creating sustainable systems to preserve the environment. When applied to space, sustainability studies save money and create a resilient space environment. The International Space Station (ISS) receives 5,000 pounds of goods every eight weeks, but only a portion of that is food and water. The rest is fuel, experiments, office supplies, replacement parts, and other necessities. However, if the International Space Station runs out of food or water, there isn’t just a grocery store right around the corner to resupply. Therefore, the Bioengineering Branch in the Life Sciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center is committed to find advanced life support systems to recycle air, food, and water.
As part of his 10 week hands-on Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) internship, Dominic Gutierrez, under the supervision of his mentor Michael Flynn, supported the branches mission to help create sustainable water recycling systems for the ISS. He said, “I learned when you design something sustainably, you end up making a better product. The water recycling technology we worked on actually generates enough power in the water purification process to power the pumps that run it.” By creating a sustainable system, NASA is in a sense cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and providing the ISS with critical life-sustaining resources all the while.
During the course of his internship, the University of California at Davis (UCD) student was tasked to build a graywater recycling system and forward osmosis membrane tester. “The biggest challenge is that when you’re building systems like mine, there aren’t any Ikea-esque instruction manuals,” Gutierrez quipped. “Rather I received a flow diagram and had to figure out what to do from there. Many times the components are things I’ve never seen before with similarly mysterious interfaces to connect one another.”
When confronted with challenges in construction, Gutierrez used his resources at NASA – his mentors, his coworkers, books, and online research – in combination with the “toolkit” of problem-solving skills he learned as a mechanical engineering major at UCD to press forward and to complete his project.
As a USRP intern, Gutierrez was given the opportunity to take part in this project and to learn about the other sustainability projects within the branch. He said, “I work with the water group but have gotten to meet people doing research in all the different components of life support and am really blown away. NASA really is at the cutting edge when it comes to keeping someone alive and it’s really neat to see how they think the facets of survival.”
When evaluating Gutierrez’s performance, Flynn stated that Gutierrez was “one of the highest quality students I have ever had.” And of Flynn, Gutierrez commented, “I have a great mentor who makes work really fun.” After USRP, Gutierrez returned to CSU to continue working toward his bachelor’s degree and plans to attend graduate school so that one day he can “work at NASA as an engineer.”