Future NASA astronauts may go to Mars in a spacesuit designed in part by a UNL graduate.
Dana Valish, who earned business and engineering degrees from UNL, is part of the EC5 Space Suit and Crew Survival Systems group, a Johnson Space Center team developing the Z-2, NASA's newest prototype spacesuit. A public vote to pick a cover layer design for the suit feature concepts created by Valish's team. Voting, which ends April 15, is available at http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/z2/.
Valish graduated from UNL with a business degree in 2000 and started working in finance. However, in his free time, Valish found inspiration in current engineering projects featured on the NASA channel.
Wanting to help advance space exploration, Valish returned to UNL. He earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2011.
Hoping to open doors to future NASA jobs, Valish pursued cooperative work experiences at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He was also a member of the first UNL Microgravity University Team in 2008, which joined selected college teams for a few spots on reduced gravity missions to conduct research for NASA.
During his coop experiences, Valish was part of several NASA teams. While with Mission Ops Directorate, he worked with the International Space Station's power and systems group and helped train astronauts on entering commands into systems that rotate ISS solar panels. He also worked with the Extra-Vehicular Activity Task Group, training astronauts to operate tools used to build and repair the space station.
With the EC5 group, Valish said the main focus is to build the first spacesuit designed specifically for planetary exploration.
He is helping develop test support equipment to check for structural and leakage issues with the suit prior to pressurization.
"I'm working on a test rig to check the structural stability of the suit," Valish said. "This will replace similar functionality of a test from the Apollo era."
The group is using groundbreaking engineering design processes — such as 3-D printing and high-strength composite materials — in the suit designs. When complete, the suit will be the first new NASA design to go into full-vacuum chamber tests since the early 1980s.
Use of the planetary exploration suit in space remains years away. However, the EC5 team is within months of completing a Z-2 iteration. Valish hopes to personally help test the new suit's capabilities in NASA's neutral buoyancy lab.
Valish said lessons learned at UNL's engineering and business colleges have helped him build his dream career with NASA.
“I like how mechanical engineering touches on many different areas of engineering,” Valish said. “At UNL, I had to learn about thermal transfer, mechatronics, motors and pumps, pressure systems and electronics. My job involves a great deal of engineering design, so I use those skills a lot, and my business skills are helpful, too.”
He also looks forward to hosting the 2014 UNL Microgravity Team during their flight week testing at the Johnson Space Center in May. He plans to lead tours at the EC5 lab.