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Vibha Srivastava is currently a PhD student at The Open University, Milton Keynes. She is fascinated with space and has a strong interest to contribute towards a future where humanity will settle at other planetary bodies like Moon and Mars. Here she explains how her ambition to be an Astronaut brought her to the position of exploring and investigating 3D printing techniques for the construction of infrastructure for human settlement on Moon. Meet Vibha as she takes on to introduce her work one of our soapboxes in Milton Keynes, on the 9th of July
SS: Vibha, how did you get to your current position?
VS: I completed my Bachelor in Aeronautical Engineering from Gujarat University in India and then joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, an aviation company in India. I was in the Aircraft R&D centre as a Design Engineer in the Aerodynamics department. Getting into the space sector has always been my interest. But my ambition to be an astronaut did not die out even after getting well-settled job in India. I took a year of sabbatical leave and pursued MSc in Space Studies from International Space University in France. My Master’s individual project took me to explore the in-situ resources available on Mars and how they can be utilized to the benefit of human needs. I had a wonderful 3 month internship opportunity to work on a small project on in-situ resource utilization at NASA Ames research center in California and I also carried out the same project at Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah for two weeks as a Crew Scientist.
After such a thrilling experience, my urge to work further in the field of in-situ resource utilization made me look for a PhD position in this field. I came across the advertisement for a PhD opportunity at The Open University, applied for it and here I am.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career in science?
VS: Since a very young age I dreamt of being an astronaut. It was the shining bright stars in the dark night sky which inspired me to reach out to them and increased my curiosity to know more about them. As my father is an electrical engineer, I grew up in an environment where science and mathematics were given importance. My mother, a housewife always enhanced my thirst to study science related subjects. My ambition to pursue space studies was well supported by my parents and it strengthened my dream at every step.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
VS: The most fascinating aspect of my research is to know more about extra-terrestrial bodies in general and making infrastructure for human habitation on the Moon in particular. The excitement of finding out about extra-terrestrial bodies – which have been a mystery to human beings for many years – keeps me motivated. The most amazing thing is that my research can impact the future of our civilization.
What is your research based on?
I am currently in my first year of Ph.D. and going through a literature review to understand the concept of 3D printing techniques. I’m identifying the gaps and challenges in this field for construction processes using the in-situ lunar soil in the extreme environments on the Moon.
My Soapbox Science talk will be about the 3D printing techniques on the Moon for construction of infrastructure using the lunar soil for human habitation. It is important because if the local resources on the surface of Moon can be utilised to construct structures, it will cut down the cost of expensive missions to Moon by reducing the payload mass for human expansion on lunar surface.
I am investigating the microwave processing of the lunar soil for construction on the lunar surface. I will talk about the 3D printing used in terrestrial applications and focus on how researchers think that using the microwave as a heat source, the lunar soil can be bonded layer by layer to construct a structure. I will also briefly explain the lunar geology and the composition of lunar soil which makes it an ideal feedstock for construction.
I am about to start experiments to heat a lunar soil simulant under microwave energy to understand how effectively it heats the lunar soil simulant, and also how the absorption of microwave energy is dependent on the properties of the lunar soil simulant.