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Texas Woman’s University Students Win Top Prize at NASA-Sponsored Design Challenge

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In a remarkable achievement, an all-female team of undergraduate kinesiology students from Texas Woman’s University (TWU) clinched the top overall prize at a NASA-sponsored design competition. The event, held in Denton, Texas, saw the TWU team, named Team Atlas, outperform their peers from various colleges in a challenging exercise device design contest.

Team Atlas, comprising Catherine Faubel (Team Lead), Daniela Venegas Polley, Madison Hennessy, Hope Kennedy, and Emma Becker, focused on developing an innovative solution for a pressing issue in space travel. Their project aimed at combating lower-body muscle atrophy in astronauts during extended space flights.

The Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge, a two-day event held outside Houston, had 18 college teams, mostly from engineering departments. Team Atlas, representing the kinesiology department, showcased their prowess by designing, building, and testing an exercise device specifically for astronauts.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed. Besides taking the top prize, the team also secured first place in peer review, second in the poster category and oral presentation, and third in the best model category. Their outstanding performance earned them scholarships from the Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC).

Rhett Rigby, an associate professor in kinesiology at TWU and the team’s faculty advisor, highlighted the significance of their win. He noted the respect they garnered from engineering students from other universities, emphasizing the team’s remarkable achievement as a non-traditional participant in the challenge.

This victory continues a tradition of excellence for TWU’s School of Health Promotion and Kinesiology’s internship team. Over the past 11 semesters, TWU teams have consistently placed in the top four in eight of those instances, with this being the fourth all-female team to achieve such a feat.

The TSGC Design Challenge encourages students to develop solutions for NASA’s research objectives. Team Atlas’s winning project focused on the issue of muscle deterioration in astronauts, particularly in the lower body, due to microgravity. They developed a working prototype for both resistance and aerobic exercise targeting key lower-body muscles like the quadriceps and hamstrings.

The innovative design of the Stationary Lower Body Movement System allows astronauts to perform workouts and daily activities in space, maintaining leg health during deep space missions. The device, resembling a stepper machine found in gyms but adapted for space use, features foot boots attached to leg braces, which are connected to pneumatic cylinders generating resistance during leg movement.

Rigby praised the team’s dedication, noting the significant time investment and the impact of their hard work on the project’s success. This achievement not only marks a milestone for Team Atlas and TWU but also contributes significantly to the field of space health and kinesiology.

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