Marshalltown Outreach Event

By Dan Miller and Jess Bales

12593946_1215763935120375_474880753930978125_oAs part of Cyclone Space Mining’s outreach events, the team had the opportunity to spend three hours (two 1.5 hour sessions) with a group of fifth grade students at Lenihan Intermediate School. There were around 18 students and 4 club members attending the classroom sessions.  The goal was to encourage students to get excited about STEM and work together as a team. At the sessions, students formed teams to design, build, and launch paper rockets.

During the first session, Dan Miller and other club members talked about the importance of teamwork. In engineering around the world and especially at NASA, working on a team is the most effective way to build something really cool. The students went around the room and talked about their favorite teams and what made their team successful. This discussion set the tone for the rest of the lesson.

Next, we taught the students about decision matrices. They made their own decision matrices later to decide how they would design their own rockets. The first session concluded with teams choosing names and writing the team name on their initial rocket. After the first session, it was very encouraging to see how excited the kids were for the next class!12572964_1215763821787053_4074524338845016243_n

To begin the second session, the teams reconfigured and reviewed their decision matrices. The students tested their rockets and made adjustments to their rockets.  In the last twenty minutes of the class, Cyclone Space Mining led the final launches on the paper rockets. The winning team launched their rocket 72 feet. The students were astounded with the improvements, beating their previous record of 40 feet.

As the team was leaving, one of the students asked if we would be coming back next year and what activity we would be doing. The growing enthusiasm for STEM was apparent with each rocket launch. Engaging young minds is something we get to do all year, but this event was especially rewarding.  Spending more time with kids and watching them learn over a couple weeks was an amazing experience.

How We Operate Like NASA

NASA, like all other organizations, has many departments that function individually to NASA_logo.svgaccomplish the overall mission of the organization.  Similarly, Cyclone Space Mining has “departments” which focus on different areas of the NASA Robotic Mining Competition (RMC).

While NASA has many, many more departments than our team will ever have; Cyclone Space Mining is set up to run as closely to NASA as we possibly can.  Within our club we have R&D (Research and Development), Controls, Mechanical, Outreach, Public Relations, and Sponsorship teams.  NASA also focuses on those areas, but on a much larger scale.

Our R&D team’s main focus is to come up with new and innovative ideas for future RMCs. Currently, they are working are plans for the 2017 RMC with plans to look even farther into the future.   NASA constantly is conducting research and development for future missions.

The Controls and Mechanical teams work separately but communicate constantly to design and manufacture a robot that is able to operate autonomously.  The project managers and the controls lead are essential to the success of the production of the robot. Without the leadership and communication between those individuals the robot would not run.  Obviously, the designing and manufacturing of rovers, rockets, etc. requires hundreds of engineers of many different disciplines.

Outreach’s main goal is to promote STEM involvement in K-12 students. This year the outreach 12572964_1215763821787053_4074524338845016243_nteam has planned more than 30 individual events and reached at least 4,000 kids.  NASA’s outreach has a much wider intended audience, and even includes our team. The NASA RMC is a huge outreach event which encourages college students to innovate and engineer.

The Public Relations team within the club not only runs the teams social media but works with media outlets covering the club, designs promotional material for the organization, and creates a spirit plan for the competition.  NASA has a very successful PR team which reaches out to media outlets, runs various social media outlets, and works to maintain their public image.

Finally, our sponsorship team is very similar to the business component of NASA.  The sponsorship team reaches out to various engineering companies for funding and materials.  12705741_1230589390304496_4568416348168893173_nHaving funding is essential to the success of the club. NASA also works with the government to receive funding. Both our team and NASA must show our sponsors (the government, in NASA’s case) what we are going to do with their funding.

Modeling our team after NASA has greatly increased the productivity of our team. It also allows team members to diversify their portfolio by working on non-engineering parts of the club in addition to the engineering parts of the organization.


New Location in 2019!

The Student Innovation Center is happening! By when? Not sure yet.    However, tentatively, the demolition of the Nuclear Engineering Building (NucE) is scheduled for January of 2017 and construction is scheduled to begin August of 2017. This puts the estimated completion date around August of 2019.


With the demolition of NucE, Cyclone Space Mining will have to leave the building and move to the Reactor Warehouse, an interim location.  This move will not happen this year, but the club is expected to be vacated from NucE during the Fall 2016 semester.


The Reactor Warehouse is located in North West Ames, which could be a potential problem for workdays.   It is 3,601 sq. ft. and has heating, drains, restrooms, etc.

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This year’s club leadership along with the leadership of other clubs who will be using the warehouse (PRISUM, SAE, Robotics Club, Concrete Canoe etc.) will be making a lot of decisions concerning the use of the warehouse. Issues like the division of space, resources, bussing, safety, hours of operation, and many other logistical problems. There is an opportunity to find a more efficient use of club space by sharing equipment.


After the initial tour of the Reactor Warehouse the following observations were made:

  • The machine shop will take up a large portion of the space
  • Power lines need to be routed into the space for the machinery
  • Concrete Canoe and Cyclone Space Mining have dust needs that cannot be met in the main lab because dust does not go well with engines
  • Parking is available in applied sciences or on the road
  • Clubs using the space will share sponsorship for the new equipment and materials used in the Reactor Warehouse.


The upcoming changes will cause some initial disruption to club operations, however the move to the Reactor Warehouse allow the university build the Student Innovation Center which will create a more permanent and non-basement space for the club to operate in. The Reactor Warehouse will prove to be a good dry run for the new space.

Total Lunar Eclipse of a Supermoon

By Jessica Bales

An eclipse is a process that occurs when one celestial object slowly passes into the shadow of another celestial object. An eclipse is also a very cool event to watch and draws thousands of spectators from their beds a few times a year.

On September 27th, 2015, a very rare total lunar eclipse of a supermoon will occur.  The next one will not occur until 2088. A total lunar eclipse is when the moon passes entirely through the earth’s umbra (umbra: the fully shaded inner region of a shadow)  A total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon, due to the red tint of the moon during the eclipse. The red tint is caused by the light from the sun’s rays that illuminate the moon traveling through total-lunar-eclipse-blood-moonEarth’s atmosphere. The earth’s atmosphere scatters more blue light, so the remaining light is red-ish.  This is what causes the moon to look red or brownish.

The eclipse happening on the 27th is also a supermoon. A supermoon is when a full moon coincidences with the moon’s closest approach to the earth. The distance from the earth to the moon is 221,753 miles.  The official name of a supermoon is the perigee-syzygy of the earth-moon-sun system. When one of these moons occur it looks 13% larger and 33% brighter than a regular full moon.

This eclipse will be best viewed in the midwestern and eastern part of the United States. It will begin at 7:11pm and end at 12:22pm CST.

Outreach to Kids and the Community

By Logan Crees


Just as fun and important as the space mining competition are the outreach events that many of our club members are so dedicated to. It’s the clubs chance to really give back to the community that supports us. Not only do these events seem to engage the parents, but especially the children. It’s always wonderful to see the change in a child’s face when they walk into the room and see a robot, about as big as many of them, driving across the floor.

One of our goals here in the Lunabotics club is to inspire kids of all ages to be interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.) This not only improves the community’s quality of life in the long run, but also provides a steady stream of new members to the club for years to come. It also allows us to leave the basement of NucE and see the light of day a few times a year. I really think that these experience the kids have by seeing the robot will drive them to be as passionate about STEM as we are. In grade school, it seems these topics are made monotonous and boring. Very few children are excited to learn about science or math, but what kid isn’t crazy about P.E.? Being able to get a kid excited about STEM like they are with P.E. means being hands-on with the courses. Not just having them sit IMG_6810behind a desk and memorize a few science related blurbs, but having them be immersed in the subject and giving them a reason to be excited. The outreach events we go to do fantastic job of doing just that. If you’ve never been to a state middle school robotics competition and been able to really see kids ecstatic about what they’re doing, while also being surround by hundreds of other kids loving what they’re doing, then I highly recommend it.

Recently at one of our outreach events at a local elementary school, we let the children take turns driving last year’s competition robot. Not only were all of the kids excited, but many of the club members looked like they were having a great time showing them how to drive the robot. For almost the entire event, there were excited kids waiting for their chance to drive a “space robot.” This joy and curiosity created and inspired by our robot is the icing on the cake for many members of the club. Not only are we helping to encourage children to enter STEM, but it’s also helping in solidifying our love of STEM.


International Women’s Day

B_XzpBWU0AIeoe2By Jessica Bales

March 8th, this Sunday, is International Women’s Day! One of the Lunabotics Club’s major outreach efforts is to encourage kids, especially young girls, to be involved in science and technology.

Women in engineering offer new perspectives and bring more creativity to the table. According genderstats2to the National Science Board, in a study released in 2012, women make up 47% of the overall workforce, but only 27% of the science and engineering workforce.  So what is going on?  A study conducted by the US Chamber of Commerce suggests that

“STEM career paths may be less accommodating to people cycling in and out of the workforce to raise a family – or it may be because there are relatively few female STEM role models. Perhaps strong gender stereotypes discourage women from pursuing STEM education and STEM jobs.”

While there is no definite explanation for the gender gap in the STEM fields, many organizations, including the ISU Lunabotics club and the ISU College of Engineering, are trying to encourage more women to be interested and involved in science and technology.

I spoke with Diana, Jasmine, and Kelly, three engineering students in the Lunabotics club about their take on women in engineering. “For the most part the only difference (between female engineers and male engineers) is that question” said Kelly, and Diana and Jasmine agreed. The response of the group to that question was ‘treat me like an engineer, not a female engineer.’ In high school, Jasmine experienced some people thinking it was “weird” that she liked math and science.  She advises girls who are interested in engineering to not “listen when people when they tell you it’s weird.”  “Just do what you love” advised Kelly.  Above all, stated Diana, “don’t be intimidated.”




Parts and Why We Use Them

Every year, when manufacturing the robot many tools are used! These tools vary widely in appearance and application. Here are just a few of the tools the ISU Lunabotics clubs uses and a brief explanation about them.

  • Injection molder: This part is pretty straight forward; plastic pellets are first taken and melted into a liquid plastic called molten plastic. An aluminum mold is injected full of the molten plastic. The plastic is then allowed to cool making a newly formed plastic component we can then use on the robot. While this process is expensive, as it requires making a custom mold, the pieces produced are more durable than those parts which have been 3D printed.  We use this process to produce our track drive teeth. Go to this link for more information


  • Multimeter: Many components of our robot use electricity. Electrical components have many properties including resistance, voltage, inductance, and current. A multimeter is used to measure these properties. This is important to know in order to ensure that power is properly distributed throughout the robot.  Different components require different amounts of current and voltage.  A multimeter lets us see what components are actually getting and make corrections as needed.


  • Solidworks: Solidworks is our most used tool. Solidworks is not a hand tool or a shop tool, but a program used to create computer aided design components better known as CAD. It is useful to create a CAD version component because it is cheaper than making the part. This allows us to save money and time as we try out different designs and ensure that the parts will fit together.  Also, once the part has been made in CAD we can define its materials thickness and many other important factors. Using this information we can plan the best way to manufacture the part decreasing the chance of defects and making our robot as successful as it can be with the smallest amount of required resources.

Lunabotics: From the Perspective of a Non-Engineer

By Logan Crees 

Being a freshman and a first year member of the club, I really had no idea how I be able to contribute. I found out it was in way I have never would have thought. But first, I should probably explain why someone, not even closely related by major, would want to join. I’m an environmental science major. I have little experience actually working with electronics, let alone a robot. True, I was captain of my high school robotics team, but let’s just say I’m good at managing a team rather than figuring out the math. So, the hardest part in the club was making people aware of the fact that I am robot-incompetent, at best. Coming in and knowing this, I immediately set to work doing the more

IMG_6839mundane task, but ones that were still useful. When elections came around, I ran for the Social Media and Spirit chair. That was one of the best decisions I made all semester, even though I ended up losing to someone who was by far the best fit for the position (also a non-engineer.) She was nice enough to find a way to include me in the position. Just because I work mostly with the media side of things doesn’t mean that I don’t get to do anything with the robot. Now, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll see any parts on the finished robot that I designed; but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any say in their design. Being part of a couple part design teams, I was able to help solve a couple problems that arose, which makes this simple scientist a little more proud than I really should feel.

Another thing that is really nice about the club, from my perspective, is that is so much different from what I generally do and the people I am usually around. I remember the first work day I went to. We were all in a lab on Solidworks, something I have never use before in my life. It actually took me 40 minutes to figure out how to run the program, let alone get through the first tutorial.

Enough about me and more about the club. The people are great, and the officers pour so much of their time into this club, it’s absolutely amazing. The passion, dedication and teamwork is what really makes this club astounding, nevermind the fact that they are one of the best teams in the nation. I wake up early every Saturday morning and come to work days, not to work as much as to watch the comradery between so many great minds. If you’ve wondered to this post because you’re curious about joining the club. Come to a weekly meeting, introduce yourself to the officers. They love talking about any aspect of the robot. It’s an amazing team to be part of even if you have no idea what you’re doing.


Top 5 Reasons to Join ISU Lunabotics Club

Get Hands On Experience – The Lunabotics Club works every year all year on designing, testing, and20140511_144159 building a new robot.  The hands-on aspect of the club is not only a resume builder, but it’s just plain old fun.

Networking – Due to the club’s success in past competition years, large companies, and potential future employers, donate funds and materials to the ISU Lunabotics Club. Companies like Vermeer, John Deer, Boeing, Caterpillar, and Rockwell Collins have all sponsored the club in years past.

Meet New People – Between work days on Saturdays, meetings on Thursdays, and the week-long trip to Florida everyone get’s to know each other.  It’s amazing how building a robot can bring people together!

Go to Florida…and maybe Hawaii – How many other clubs get to travel to vacation destinations? Not many.  Every summer, club members travel to Florida to Kennedy Space Center to compete in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition, and spend some time on the beach too.

Boost Your Resume – Saying you helped design, test, and build an award winning robot meant to go to Mars019 can only be helpful when searching for employment.  The club also participates in outreach events, works
with sponsors, and writes papers for the competition; all of which help develop a well rounded person and a well rounded resume.

ISU Lunabotics and First Lego League

First Lego League

By Jessica Bales

This Saturday, middle school students from across Iowa will flock to Iowa State Campus. Not to tour the campus or watch a basketball game but to compete in the 16th annual First Lego League (FLL) state championship.

Every year the FLL competition is focused around a challenge. The 2014 challenge is to “redesign how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century, teams will teach adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn.”  The students not only design, program, and build a Lego Mindstorm robot, but they also research and propose a solution to a real world problem. FLL

2011 FLL Outreach Event

2011 FLL Outreach Event

Naturally, NASA Robotic Mining teams and FLL are a perfect match! The problem solving skills, technical skills, and teamwork gained through participating in FLL are very similar to the ones necessary to be successful in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition. Oftentimes, members of the Lunabotics club were involved in FLL when they were in middle school. The Lunabotics team is fortunate enough to be on the campus where the state FLL championship is hosted.

The Iowa State Lunabotics team has been doing outreach with FLL since 2011. This year, the ISU Lunabotics Club has given advice to local FLL teams and worked with other teams via blogs and webchats. Over the weekend, the club will be giving tours of the Lunabotics lab for FLL teams and running a session at the state championship.

Learn more about the FLL here!