A group of Clare students have come up with an eco-friendly idea to help humans live in space — but they need €13,000 in sponsorship to get their plans to lift-off.

The fifth-year physics students at St Flannan’s College in Ennis have been given the chance to present their ‘space elevator’ project to industry experts at an international conference if they can get the trip funded.

The opportunity arises from the school’s tradition of participation in a NASA competition that invites students to design space settlements and related material.

The St Flannan’s entry this year was EcoRise, centred around the concept of a space elevator capable of providing much cheaper access to the moon than currently possible. The elevator would run from a base on earth, using cables of super-strong nano-tubes of carbon, to be extracted from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“We wanted to do something to reduce climate change. We had to do an awful lot of research, reading scientific articles and working out a lot of calculations,” said George Harrington, one of the team.

With extensive and complex physics explaining how to overcome many obstacles, they outlined the possibilities of constructing a space settlement from asteroid and lunar materials.

The NASA Ames Space Settlement design competition received more than 2,500 entries from 10,000 students around the world.

The six Clare students found out over St Patrick’s weekend that their project had earned them second prize in the large team category for older students.

But their teacher John Conneely said they will not be able to travel unless they can raise the €13,000 it will cost for the team and two teachers to accept the invitation to take part in the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference at the end of May.

Tara McInerney said she has always loved everything about space, and she would like to study astrophysics in college.

“From doing the project, we got to see how much is possible. It’s amazing to see how much physics comes into even the small things,” said Tara.

“We’d love to meet and talk to the world’s experts, and get to see what’s going on right now in the world of physics. It would be just brilliant to get to LA,” she said.

Tara worked on the chapter in the St Flannan’s submission relating to the education system that would be used on the space settlement, including the introduction of earth studies and astronomy for pupils from the age of 12.

Mr Conneely said the project was partly inspired by Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth challenge, which offers a $25m prize for scalable and sustainable ways to remove greenhouse gases from the earth’s atmosphere. His students will get to present their proposals to the conference in May if they can get the trip financed.

“We’ve had great support in the past from some local and international businesses to help send successful students to this event.

“This is a great opportunity for companies to help us go again, and to invest in science and technology education,” said Mr Conneely.


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