NASA holds an annual competition called The Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, which provides opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students around the United States to work on projects related to the given theme, which changes each year. This contest started in 2016, aiming to quickly develop innovative, sophisticated technologies for use in future NASA missions. The process begins by having each participating team submit a proposal based on the given theme. The teams that submitted the most compelling proposals are then selected by NASA as the competition finalists, competing for cash prize awards to help make their ambitious dreams a reality. 


The 2021 BIG Idea Challenge was open to teams of 5-25 students from Space Grant-affiliated colleges and Universities; selected teams would be awarded cash prizes ranging from $50,000 to $180,000. The team from Caltech, despite participating in this challenge for the very first time, was chosen as one of this year’s finalists.

 

The BIG Idea Challenge 2021 theme is Lunar Dust. The purpose of this year’s challenge is for students to help NASA tackle the issue of lunar dust on the moon; the dust particles are abrasive, highly cohesive, extremely small, and electrostatically charged, making them harmful to the health of astronauts. These tiny grains also risk damaging sensitive instruments, resulting in incorrect readings, altered thermal properties, and even outright equipment failure. The participating teams were asked to submit robust proposals for near-term dust mitigation (or dust-tolerant) technologies that can be used for lunar applications near or at the Moon’s South Pole.

 

Ms. Nisreen worked as the project manager for the California Institute of Technology on their “HOMES (Habitat Orientable & Modular Electrodynamic Shield)” project under the supervision of Dr. Charles Elachi. Her objective was to help the Caltech team manage their HOMES project within the desired timeframe and cost. To that effect, she used project management tools and techniques to better manage the project in terms of scheduling, budget tracking, milestones, risk management and developed ways to visualize them easily. The team surpassed the success criteria of the project, HOMES was completed on time & operated efficiently, being the only working prototype out of all the competing projects in the Challenge. For that, NASA awarded the Caltech team with the Best Product Development award on November 18, 2021.

 

Ms. Nisreen is a senior student in the Department of Operations & Project Management. This fall (2021) semester she is conducting her Internship at the California Institute of Technology (known as Caltech) on a NASA project. She is supervised by Dr. Sheraz Malek, Assistant Professor of Operations and Project Management.