Jul 15, 2014
Time Capsule to Mars Plan by Connecticut Student Has NASA ‘On Board’
A simulated depiction of the Time Capsule to Mars spacecraft as it approaches Mars. Courtesy of MIT.
When it comes to career goals Emily Briere is shooting for the stars.
The 21-year-old senior at Duke University, who is from Storrs, Connecticut, is the brainchild behind Time Capsule to Mars, an ambitious otherworldly project that aims to be the first student-led interplanetary mission. With the help of crowd-sourced funding Briere hopes to lead students from across the country on a mission to design, build, launch and then land a time capsule on the Red Planet, all within the next five years.
Briere (right) says sending a time capsule to Mars will connect young people with space exploration.
“Anybody from around the world can send in a photo, or a video, or an audio clip and it will be preserved on the surface of Mars,” she says. “So we’re [taking] the average person who has little to no idea about what’s going on above our atmosphere and connecting them to this mission.”
It may sound like the wide-eyed vision of a smart but overly optimistic young person, but Briere’s rocket dream has fuel.
The one-year-old project has enjoyed a great deal of success since initial "lift off." Time Capsule to Mars officially launched its crowd funding campaign at the end of June at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.Thanks to donations from corporate sponsors and the University of Connecticut the group has already raised almost a million dollars (the project is expected to cost $25 million) and attracted the support of some of the aerospace industry’s biggest stars.
Former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin has signed on as an advisor to the mission, and other advisors include Lon Levin, co-founder of XM Satellite Radio, and Jim Crocker, vice president of civil space at Lockheed Martin, as well as several other former astronauts and aerospace engineers and executives. NASA is also heavily supporting the project, and Briere’s group has partnered with the nonprofit Explore Mars.
“We’re growing,” says Briere. “We have incredible minds behind us and we're really building that infrastructure for a stronger tomorrow in space.”
Though young, Briere is a veteran when it comes to success. By 15 she had co-founded three start-ups with her twin brother, Nick. These companies made enough money for both of them to help pay for college. In addition to business, Briere always had a passion for space exploration and mathematics. To encourage this passion her parents built a science lab for her and her siblings in the house.
At Duke she is majoring in mechanical engineering with a math minor and will also be receiving an aerospace certificate. Since starting college she’s spent her summers working at sought after student jobs in the aerospace industry. Last summer she worked for NASA, and this year she’s in Denver working for Lockheed Martin.
“My mom's a scientist, my dad is an entrepreneur and I like to think I combined the two into engineering,” says Briere in explaining the inspiration for her scientific and creative drive.
Briere had the idea for Time Capsule to Mars while attending the Humans to Mars Conference in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2013 with her father and family friend, Eric Knight, the president of Remarkable Technologies, Inc. and current advisor to Time Capsule to Mars. At the conference the trio was impressed with new space exploration technology, but they were disappointed that high costs prevented most of it from actually being used in space. They were also disappointed by how few people knew about the exciting things happening in the field.
“I said how can we get everybody interested?” recalls Briere. “How can we get this new technology into space? And how can we get students engaged?”
With the help of her father and Knight, Briere came up with an answer to those questions: Time Capsule to Mars. Since that conference the project has snowballed into what it is today. But Briere has not done it alone. Her family has been actively involved; her twin brother has helped organize the business end of the project and her younger siblings, Christian and Madeline, have also been on board, helping to design the project's website and working with NASA to design experiments for the mission.
Briere has also partnered with students at other universities to design the various components of the spacecraft, which will carry the time capsule. Schools working on the project include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Connecticut, where a student team will design the craft’s payload, the part that will actually land on Mars.
A feasibility study for the project was successfully completed at MIT last fall. Briere says the project is possible because they plan to make their spacecraft the first to utilize a variety of new technologies, including CubeSats or small payloads that can sometimes hitch a ride on a major mission launch and get launched into space for free.
“By miniaturizing space travel you’re able to reduce cost and get a lot of new technology up there,” Briere says. “You’re not paying for a vehicle the size of a school bus to go to space. We’re looking at something more in the order of two cereal boxes put next to each other. This will potentially be the first CubeSat mission.”
Another aerospace industry first will be the spacecraft’s use of ion electrospray propulsion. Developed at MIT, this technique generates propulsion by using an electric field to extract and accelerate ions.
“Ion electrospray propulsion is incredibly novel because it drives on the concept of thrusting the entire way at a very tiny thrust,” Briere says. “ So you’re accelerating constantly versus [having] one huge thrust and coasting [the rest of the way] which NASA typically does.”