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     Students dream of houses in the sky

Chandigarh, April 13: ONE city resident and his colleague from Ganganagar, both second-year civil engineering students from Punjab Engineering College (PEC), will soon have a hand in putting people on cloud nine — literally. Ankur Bajoria, the local lad, and Nitin Arora have got an invitation to be part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-sponsored project for developing a design for a colony in space. And they are determined not to let the chance of their lives go to waste.

Ankur and Nitin got their opportunity when they came into contact with A.L. Globus, a scientist with the NASA Ames Research Centre that invites people to send proposals or models for space settlements via the internet. Globus puts up the specifications required for a space settlement and scientists and students respond with proposals meeting these.

Nitin explained, ‘‘Space settlements are structures planned to be built outside the earth’s atmosphere, but near the earth. These would serve as base stations for scientists involved in space exploration as well as potential sites for habitation.’’

The space settlement designs have to be rotating structures; the rotation cancels out the earth’s attraction. The structures have also to be built using carbon nano tubes that are much lighter than aluminium and more than 100 times stronger than steel, Nitin says.

But, is this for real? ‘‘Who thought a hundred years ago that human beings would be able to fly in airplanes?’’ counters Nitin. According to the duo, we just have to wait a 100 years for space settlements to become a reality.Globus had invited them to prepare 3-D computer-aided design models for the older colony designs. While completing this work, they were given the job to develop a new design, named Kalpana. It will be bigger than the earlier space models and is meant to provide living space for one million people. ‘‘There were no clues on its appearance, outlook and other details. But we took up the challenge and studied literature on the design, working and stability of the space structures,’’ said Ankur. ‘‘We also shared ideas with Globus through e-mails everyday.’’ Nitin and Ankur will work together on rectifying the design of Kalpana and publish a research paper. They are leaving for NASA for a one-month contact and research programme. They have written a letter to the PEC director for sponsorship (it would come to Rs 1.25 - Rs 1.5 lakh) and say the director has forwarded the letter to the administration. Hope they get it!

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