Photo: Lawmakers, PISCES staff and interns celebrate after a final project presentation at Big Island Workforce Connection on Aug. 18. (L-R): Sen. Kai Kahele, PISCES Ops. Mgr. Christian Andersen, Interns Jack Andersen, Aaron Roth and Lily Leyva, PISCES Prog. Mgr. Rodrigo Romo, Intern Kyla Shetter, Rep. Mark Nakashima.

How many interns does it take to pave the future of space exploration?

Just five, apparently.

Thanks to a grant from the Hawaii Dept. of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR), PISCES’ group of full-time interns delved into 10 weeks of Applied Research projects this summer that culminated in a final public presentation to a crowd of lawmakers, industry representatives, educators and members of the community on Friday, Aug. 11.

View photos of the event >>

The presentation, held at a conference room at Big Island Workforce Connection in Hilo, highlighted PISCES’ ongoing planetary exploration research and the accomplishments of interns Kyla Defore, Aaron Roth, Andrew Hasegawa, Jack Andersen and Lily Leyva.

Kyla Defore and Lily Leyva discuss their planetary geology field survey on Maunakea on Aug. 11.

Kyla Defore and Lily Leyva discuss their Materials Science applied research projects in Hilo on Aug. 11.

Organized into two learning tracks—Materials Science and Robotics—the group of Hawaii-based students each shared an enthusiastic presentation outlining their summer learning experiences.

Under a NASA STTR grant (co-awarded with Honeybee Robotics), Kea’au High School graduate Lily Leyva and UH Hilo alumnus Kyla Defore set their minds to the challenges inherent in creating ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) materials for space construction. Their main task? Efficiently creating “LEGO” building blocks made entirely of volcanic basalt fines.

Lily described how she assembled a 3D printer (instructions not included), then designed and printed a new planetary building block based on a predecessor created during PISCES’ VT/VL Landing Pad project in 2016. As a returning third year intern, Kyla mentored Lily in the fundamentals of planetary geology, resulting in a successful field site survey using the Helelani Planetary rover. Both Kyla and Lily, led by PISCES Ops. Manager Christian Andersen, explained their research in basalt sintering and casting to make construction-grade materials using only heat and volcanic dust. The technology has potential applications for use in Hawaii and in space.

View Materials Science Team presentations >>

PISCES Robotics Team interns (L-R): Aaron Roth, Jack Andersen and Andrew Hasegawa.

PISCES Robotics Team interns (L-R): Aaron Roth, Jack Andersen and Andrew Hasegawa.

Robotics team members Aaron (Arizona State University) and Jack (Hawaii Community College) talked on the intricate details of their work upgrading the Helelani rover with a new operating system and stereoscopic imaging camera. During field tests at a planetary analog site, all three robotics students (including Andrew, also a HawCC student) assessed the new software and hardware systems through a series of remote sensing tests, traversing the rugged, lunar-like slopes of Maunakea from a mission control tent.

View Robotics Team presentations >>

“This has been an amazing 10 weeks,” Jack said during his presentation. “It’s opened up a lot of new things for me to explore.”

Attendees of the interns’ public presentation included Senator Kaiali’i Kahele and Rep. Mark Nakashima—both local advocates for high-tech and aerospace development in Hawaii.

Nakashima wrote in a Facebook post: “It was a pleasure to meet with this summer’s PISCES Interns who spent the last several months working on projects to further PISCES’ mission to increase the economic opportunities for the State of Hawaii.”