Wood in space? We may have lift off!

An ingenious new approach to preparing spacecraft for travel could result in wood grained panels being incorporated into rocket design to help improve the mood and wellbeing of crew.

Dr Sasha Alexander, Director of Academic Program Industrial Design at the Western Sydney University’s School of Engineering, Design and Built Environment, is working on research that might ultimately see wood panels used on long duration space missions ... potentially to Mars, no less!

“As a former recipient of an FWPA PhD scholarship, the team would like to acknowledge and congratulate Dr Alexander as he takes on this other-worldly mission,” said Ric Sinclair, Managing Director at FWPA.

“We are always proud to learn about the ongoing achievements of the brilliant researchers who benefit early in their careers from this kind of support.”

Dr Alexander has been working with experts at NASA and the University of Houston’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) on the project. 

An initial paper was developed and presented at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C outlining the concept for an innovative Australian undergraduate industrial design program, known as the ‘Interdisciplinary Space Lab’.

A 'design for space' learning studio has since been established at the Western Sydney University, and is open to students who have completed 1.5 years of university study in any discipline. In undertaking the program, the 85 students involved so far have worked together to focus specifically on astronaut health and wellbeing. Interest amongst students continues to grow, with a marked increase in participation year-on-year.

The important role of wood in this work hinges on the phenomenon of biophilia, which helps satisfy the innate human tendency to seek connections with nature. Essentially, using wood and other natural materials to ‘bring the outdoors into the built environment’ has scientifically-recognised psychological benefits, and is known to make us feel happier and more productive.

“The interdisciplinary space studio's framework acknowledges the potential synergies between different areas of specialty,” said Dr Alexander.

“The program focuses on discovery and experiential learning, to help plan for future complex and dynamic space missions and environments, through multi-disciplinarily collaboration, concept development, and prototyping.” 

The idea is to engage students from disciplines beyond the engineering expertise traditionally associated with this kind of work. Participants can come from backgrounds as diverse as construction, industrial design, architecture, medicine, psychology, economics, neuroscience, health sciences, construction, education, industrial design, architecture, materials science, cultural studies and more.

“In doing so, the Interdisciplinary Space Lab supports the development of open professional mindsets, heightened confidence, and a willingness and enthusiasm to adopt co-creative practices for the benefit of our astronauts as they continue to bravely undertake their vital work,” said Alexander.