A graduate of Selkirk College, 22-year-old Ben Marken studied in the Millwright/Machinist Program and the Digital Arts & New Media Program.
When NASA put out an online challenge to help find solutions for unloading supplies on the Moon, Selkirk College alumnus Ben Marken answered the worldwide call with a design that turned heads and placed him an impressive fifth overall in the competition.
The National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) is currently pushing forward with its Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. As part of its overall scheme to send astronauts to Mars, the US-based space agency appealed to the online community to come up with answer for unloading supplies on the surface so sustainable exploration of the Moon can proceed.
“I noticed the contest four days before the deadline and thought I’d give it my best shot,” says the 22-year-old Marken. “The chance that my concept might play a role in the final vehicle design sounded wild.”
The Advanced Lightweight Lunar Gantry for Operations (ALLGO) Challenge sought creative solutions using computer-aided design models for a mobile support structure based on a framework of inflatable components. With a detailed list of specifications provided by judges and no time to spare, Marken set to work on his design that resulted in the ALLGO Tubecrane.
“It’s like taking three of those inflatable tube men you see outside of car dealerships and gluing the bottom of each one to a golf cart,” Marken says when asked to put his submission into simple terms. “Strap a crane on top, send it 380,000 kilometres into space and hope everything works. The short answer is that it’s just an expandable gantry crane for unloading cargo.”
Out of 132 total accepted entries that appealed to a community engineers, designers, manufacturers and students, Marken’s concept came in fifth overall. He was the only Canadian entry to reach the final contest.
“The three-tube bladder was a unique feature,” Marken says. “It held strong in all the FEA software I used, nice and rigid. The judges gave it a test themselves and liked the concept.”
A graduate of Nelson’s LV Rogers Secondary in 2016, Marken entered Selkirk College’s Digital Arts & New Media Program straight out of high school. With a passion for learning and a superb talent for problem solving, he further built on his formal education in the college’s Millwright/Machinist Program on the Silver King Campus.
In coming up with his design for the ALLGO Challenge, Marken did research on both NASA’s Apollo 15 Mission and the former Soviet Union’s Lunokhod Program, two early-1970s Moon projects that focused on lunar roving vehicles. He also tapped his post-secondary education at Selkirk College to help him with the entry.
“The judges made some pretty unique requests for the concept they were looking for and I didn’t have much formal training in that area, the closest I had to help me is machinist and engineering graphic communications classes,” says Marken. “The swing-drive idea was inspired by a modern excavator and the three-boom gantry off of a delta style printer.”
With an approach to education and future career that places focus on building a diversity of skills while pushing towards what interests him, Marken is modest about his latest accomplishment. His fifth-place finish comes with praise from the space agency, but it’s unclear whether his ambitions include a future helping NASA more formally solve problems of space exploration.
“Only if they have free coffee in the break room,” he smiles.
Find out more about Marken’s design projects at his website: www.benmarken.com