NASA-Pratt Habitat Project

One of our great interns, Rhea Gopal, participated in a fascinating project collaboration between NASA and the Pratt Institute. We asked her to share more on her incredible experience.

Humans going to Mars may still be a wild fantasy to most, but many do believe it is within reach in the near future such as NASA, Bigelow, and SpaceX.  In hopes of reaching this goal, and doing so in a human-centered way for us to take the six-month journey in an extreme environment, Pratt Institute partnered with NASA to hold a recurring year-long design studio including architecture and industrial design students to tackle this immense challenge.

I was among the 19 students that participated in the first half of this project, which was the design semester, while the second was a full scale mock up fabrication semester.  If working architects today think it is difficult working in teams of 5 or 6 people, imagine 19!  Not to mention two professors, one from each field of study (industrial design and architecture).  The large group experience was definitely a new and extremely challenging one, but it strengthened my organizational and coordination skills.

We began the semester tirelessly researching and learning from meetings with astronauts, conference calls with NASA space habitat experts, and even a MIT educated scholar.  Our next phase was to flush out as many design ideas as we could and narrow down to the most plausible ones.  Once that was finalized, we were more inspired than ever to develop specific areas (that interested us) of the space habitat, breaking off into smaller groups including: the central core, the mechanical, the upper sleeping area, and lighting/technology group (which was the one I was in).  Working as one of the leaders of the lighting group, I learned about how crucial lighting can be in our day to day lives and how to use it to our advantage in keeping astronauts sane during their journey to Mars.  Some technologies we proposed for example, were programmable LED lighting throughout the ship to mimic the sun (to help regulate our bodies’ circadian rhythms), holographic devices used to study space, or even 360 degree projections of anything imaginable such as, our homes on Earth, a sunset on a beach, or even the stars passing by in real time!

The highlight of the entire semester though, had to be our studio’s trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for three days.  We received private tours of ISS replicas, the largest pool in the world (a.k.a. Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory or NBL) used to mimic zero gravity, and even life size rockets!  Even though these tours were insanely inspiring and fun, we did have the heavy burden and stress of presenting to NASA engineers, rocket scientists and other experts on the last day of our trip.  We rehearsed through the night, hoping to make an impact with the new ideas that we were bringing to the table.  At last, I alongside a few of my teammates (we were all so nervous) presented and executed a great final presentation.  Everyone there seemed to appreciate our efforts, congratulated us, and most of all, told us that our ideas were inspiring to them as well, which was all that we had hoped for.

I can easily say, that my Fall 2015 semester at Pratt Institute was the most challenging and inspiring one thus far and I can only hope to keep reaching for the stars!


As the second semester of this project came to a close in May 2016, we were ecstatic to have it all come to fruition at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, in a display under the Enterprise Shuttle! To have a further look at this project, check out these links:


Rhea Gopal

5th Year Undergraduate Student at Pratt Institute