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Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State’s Space Cowboys at NASA Testing Deep Space Concepts

Wed, June 03, 2015
From left: Aavron Estep, Tulsa; Chesney Overton, Fletcher; Steven Asplin, Dallas; Sage Ellis, Wynne, Ark.; Max Vowell, Guthrie; Kaevon Azartash-Namin, Midwest City; and Monty Abdelsalam, Rolla, Mo.

Seven Oklahoma State University student members of the Space Cowboys team are at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston this week conducting experiments to test concepts for future space flight. 

The OSU team, one of only a handful of university teams selected by NASA to develop prototypes for the project, will investigate a tool designed by the team to capture rock samples from an asteroid during a possible future mission. Tests are conducted by NASA divers in the simulated microgravity environment of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory – the world’s largest swimming pool – that astronauts train in for extra-vehicular activity (EVA). Since two of the OSU team members are certified divers, they tested the sampling tool at OSU’s Colvin Center pool before traveling to Houston. 

“One of NASA’s future manned missions is to an asteroid where they hope to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit essentially and send a couple of people up there to take samples and characterize the asteroid,” said Max Vowell, an aerospace engineering student from Guthrie who is the project lead.

OSU is participating through the Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (Micro-g NExT) program, which challenges undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses a current space exploration problem. The overall experience includes hands-on engineering design, test operations and educational/public outreach. The OSU team has designed and built its sample collection tool with rotating chambers similar to a revolver so collected materials can be kept separated.

 “This is designed for an asteroid mission, which at the earliest is a decade out,” said Jamey Jacob, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and the project’s faculty advisor. “So this is still very early stage. They will take this to maturation through additional design analysis and testing.”

Along with Vowell, the Space Cowboys team includes OSU aerospace and mechanical engineering undergraduates Steven Asplin, Dallas; Kaevon Azartash-Namin, Midwest City; Sage Ellis, Wynne, Ark.; Aavron Estep, Tulsa; Chesney Overton, Fletcher; and Monty Abdelsalam, Rolla, Mo. Funding is provided by the Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium. 

More information can be found on the team’s Facebook page at