Bailey Miller, an engineering graduate student at the University of Kansas, has a compelling goal: to be among the first astronauts to land on Mars.
He's off to a good start.
Miller was the leader of a seven-member team that won an international competition hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Their prompt was to design a spacecraft capable of reaching Mars, sustaining orbit and returning to Earth.
"What they wanted us to do was to demonstrate technologies that would be needed for future deep space missions and also for use in future landing missions on Mars," Miller told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.
The team's winning spacecraft design, named Pytheas, tackled the usual obstacles of astronautics: fuel consumption, launch trajectory and space radiation.
But their design also addressed the issue of boredom.
"So making sure the human [passengers] were comfortable was a really big thing," Miller said. "We put in VR headsets for all of the crew that way they would have something to do on the 300-day spaceflight between here and Mars."
The undergraduate-only competition forced engineering students to think outside the box.
"We’re used to thinking ‘Here’s the math, just do the math’ but we had to think of all the situations, the possible outcomes and try and fix different problems we never expected," he said.
Now a graduate student, Miller has built a checklist on his expectations for becoming an astronaut.
"[NASA] is looking for experience in extreme environments, having piloting experience, having a graduate degree and having scuba experience," he said. "I'm trying to do all of those things."
Miller's passion to be an astronaut formed in childhood, shortly after watching "Toy Story."
“I must have been three or four years old,” he said. “I think it was just this picture of being in space, being completely weightless. As I got older, it formed into this dream where Mars started to be in the news and started to become a reality … so that was my goal.”
Coy Dugger is an assistant producer for KCUR’s Central Standard. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.