Engineers develop furniture for moon, Mars

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

As NASA considers establishing colonies on the moon, Mars and perhaps even in the skies high above Venus, they’ll obviously need a good place to sit down, enjoy a bite to eat, or to kick back and relax with a good book. Thankfully, Rice University’s got them covered.

As the Houston, Texas-based university announced on Thursday, a group of five seniors calling themselves the Lunar Lounger team created – at the behest of the US space agency – a prototype table and chair designed to for use in space of environments other than good ol’ planet Earth.

moon furniture

Rice engineering students have designed a flexible chair for space habitats. Along with a custom, adjustable table, the prototypes are intended to present ideas for both space-bound astronauts and future habitats. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow)

The members of the Lunar Lounger team, all of whom are mechanical engineers, developed the furniture to serve multiple functions in environments requiring maximum flexibility without too much hassle. The table and chair pack flat for shipping, and are specially designed to cope with the decreased gravity in non-Earth environments, team member Laura Blumenschein said.

Crafting tables and chairs usable in low gravity

Blumenschein and colleagues Archit Chaba, Rey Amendola, Alex Schmidt and Dan Peera also had to account for the limited area that would be available in a space-based colony, and account for weight and strength requirements. They came up with tables that can be adjusted for standing and seated work, while also being light enough to keep the weight of the furniture down.

The table itself rests on gas springs for easy height adjustment, and connection ports allow it to be paired with other tables. As for the chairs, Peera explained in a statement that they are usable by astronauts ranging in height from 5’0” to 6’2”. Both table and seat were designed to be floor-mounted in order to keep them anchored in microgravity, and the chair can be adjusted to be a traditional seat or a back chair with a knee rest with pin-and-hole mechanisms.

Furthermore, the Lunar Lounger team noted that the seat has restraining footrests that can be used in zero-gravity environments. The furniture was developed by the mechanical engineering students as part of their senior class capstone project, and they received guidance from veteran astronaut/engineer Nancy Curry and other NASA experts throughout the development process.

Discussing the project with the Lunar Lounger team

RedOrbit had the opportunity to chat about the project with the Lunar Lounger team via email, and naturally, the first thing that we wanted to know was if the project was as fun to work on as it seemed. They said that it was “very fun” and “a great experience intreating with NASA” on it, but that it also meant “a lot of late nights sometimes to get to where we are now.”

“We were approached by NASA with a general idea of making furniture specifically for partial gravity environments” such as the moon and Mars, they explained. “There had been very little research into what this would entail, so they were interested in a dedicated team of undergraduate mechanical engineers tackle the problem. A lot of the specifics of what furniture we were going to focus on we came up with ourselves.”

The Lunar Lounger team said that the biggest challenge they faced when designing the table and chairs was creating furniture intended to be used in partial gravity environments – something that they admittedly have “no experience” with. They consulted with people with experience working on moon and Mars rover, but found there had not been much attention paid to furniture design, in part because it had there simply had not been a lot of experience in partial gravity.

In a statement, Peera called the table and chairs were early prototypes, and the team told redOrbit that the furniture was “a first attempt at addressing” these issues. “We anticipate that there will be many iterations in the years to come, but we think that we have set a good foundation to build upon and make a design ready for astronaut use on the moon and Mars,” they added.

Finally, the Lunar Lounger team said that it was “amazing how much thought goes into every piece of furniture you use.” Oh, and about their chair? Apparently, it’s “super comfortable.” In fact, they confessed, “a few of us have fallen asleep in it after a long night of work!”


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