Howard Architecture Partners on Smart Habitat Research Funded by $15M NASA Grant

HOME kick off meeting group picture

The Howard University Department of Architecture faculty and students are part of a seven-university team funded by a $15 million NASA grant. The grant establishes the Habitats Optimized for Missions of Exploration (HOME) Space Technology Research Institute for Deep Space Habitat Design, one of two space technology research institutes selected by NASA in 2019. The HOME team is led by the University of California at Davis and includes partners at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, the University of Southern California, and Texas A&M University. Corporate partners are Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Technologies Aerospace Systems.

Howard University will receive $500,000 over the five-year grant period. The principal investigator at Howard University is Architecture Department Chair and Professor Hazel R. Edwards, Ph.D. Together with Assistant Professor Dahlia Nduom, Dr. Edwards and selected architecture students will support the project to sustain human presence in space. Dr. Edwards also serves on the HOME Steering Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the project and providing guidance.

The smart habitat research will dovetail with research from other current NASA projects to develop smart habitat technologies. According to the NASA press release, “the HOME institute’s design approach for deep space habitats is one that relies not only on proven engineering and risk analysis, but also on emergent technologies to enable resilient, autonomous and self-maintained habitats for human explorers.” The key is to develop new paradigms for the design of NASA's deep-space habitats.

In Fall 2019, Dr. Edwards and Assistant Professor Nduom teamed with six architecture students to embark on research to translate what it means to transition from dwelling in a terrestrial condition to living in a zero-gravity scenario. Third-year students Isabella Adekoya, Ebubechukwu “Joshua” Ajayi, Solomon Alverez-Gibson and Jenna Greer, along with fourth year students Alyssa Jenkins and Maya Thornton, explored innovative ways to apply architectural principles of terrestrial dwellings to space habitats. A point of departure for their work was the application of the Design Thinking Process (research, analyze, ideate, prototype) to determine the impact of such factors as territoriality, mental health, and functionality on the designed environment which also increased the student’s understanding and critical evaluation of a situation that is not typically addressed within the architecture design realm.

Dr. Edwards comments that “this is an exciting opportunity for Howard Architecture at a time when the industry is realizing the full impact that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can have on architectural design and construction. For well over three decades, design professionals have been using AI such as computer-aided design to draw and build more complex structures. It creates an interesting opportunity for us as we balance analog (hand drawing) techniques with more advanced digital technologies which can problem solve in a variety of ways. The NASA grant connects us with methodology (from the other team members) that will enable students in our program to have a heightened understanding and skillset within this evolving aspect of the field.”

“This grant is an exciting opportunity to develop design guidelines which harness the work we do focused on empathetic, human-centered design in terrestrial habitats. We are looking forward to expanding our knowledge of deep space habitat design as we embark on this interdisciplinary research,” adds Assistant Professor Nduom.

(Pictured: Members of HOME team with Dr. Hazel R. Edwards [seated, far left])

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