Clare students on top of the world after claiming NASA prize with radical idea

31 May 2016

Four students from St Flannan’s College in Ennis, Co Clare are still beaming after being named the winners of a space habitat challenge at the recent International Space Development Conference.

The Clare students, Seán Donnelly, Eoghan Keane, Jason Herbert and Kieran Maher, are all 17-years-old, and they attended the conference in Puerto Rico, where their idea beat 4,000 other students from around the world .

According to The Irish Times, the competition for students asked that they design potential settlements that could hold astronauts outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

The students were required to show that these habitats could be self-sustaining, allowing for the growth of food and production of water, as well as having their own artificial gravity, atmosphere and electricity.

Much more than just a model contest, the Clare students and other competitors were also required to show their work and how it would perform in real life, so details of all the materials used, how it would be built and financed were a requirement.

An idea straight from science fiction

The boys from St Flannan’s College went left-of-field with their concept, turning to classic science fiction and Issac Asimov with a colony that would exist within the asteroid belt found between the huge distances from Mars to Jupiter.

The Irish team proposed a method of cargo delivery that would ditch the need for chemical rockets used in today’s space launches, and every other launch that has come before it.

Their idea suggests using the principal of electromagnetic propulsion to get its cargo off the ground, in the same way that Elon Musk’s hyperloop concept would propel a train down a track.

Helping them in their victory were their science teachers John Conneely, Michael Horgan and Gráinne O’Brien and, speaking of their pupils’ success, Conneely said: “It really was a team effort.

“The students developed the ideas themselves, and we gave some overall direction; they also got expert advice from the Colham Centre for Nuclear Fusion based in the UK.”

Future space station image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic