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Egyptian engineer wins NASA design competition

Egyptian engineer wins NASA design competition
The sensor could be used in NASA's next Venus rover

By: Moslem Ali

Cairo - Mubasher: Egyptian engineer Youssef Ghali has won first place in a competition by NASA to design a sensor for a Venus exploration rover.

The public competition was seeking ideas for a mechanical obstacle-avoidance sensor that could be incorporated into the design of NASA's upcoming Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), and Youssef’s “Venus Feelers” was the top winner.

The second closest planet to the sun in our solar system is known for its challenging environment. The longest any spacecraft has survived on the surface of Venus was about two hours, a record set by the Soviet Union's Venera 13 probe in 1981, according to NASA.

Last time a spacecraft landed on Venus was in 1985 and it survived for only 52 minutes.

The first place winner did not only receive a $15,000 prize, but he is also a strong contender for inclusion in AREE's design as the rover concept continues to develop.

Mubasher spoke to Youssef, who said he knew about the competition from an online blog post and was very intrigued by the challenge.

The problem was very tricky, as NASA needed to look at fresh solutions and ideas from the general public. What attracted me the most was the very harsh conditions on Venus, which meant that hi-tech approaches could not last there for long. Instead of sophistication, the solution had to be very simple and feasible, but very innovative at the same time. And that is very much the approach I use in design generally.”

- Have you ever thought you would work on a space project?

"I always liked space exploration as an enthusiast, not as a specialist. I never thought that my work would one day lead me to design something for outer space.”

- Considering that the announcement came about two weeks prior to the UAE launching the Hope probe to Mars and at a time when Egypt is not only establishing its national space agency but also set to be home to the African Space Agency, Youssef expressed his hopes for a brighter future for scientists and engineers like him in the space industry.

More than any time before, I expect that from now on there would be more and more opportunities for young scientists and engineers in space exploration in the region,” he emphasized.

- What are your plans for the future now?

All I want to do is to make good designs and introduce innovative solutions for problems in different fields. One of the projects that I am currently working on is developing designs for off-road wheelchairs.”

It is worth noting that Youssef holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Helwan University.

Competition's Success

The response from the community was incredible and better than I ever dreamed,” said Jonathan Sauder, a senior mechatronics engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), speaking about the success of the public competition, according to NASA’s statement.

There were so many great ideas and well-developed concepts that in addition to first, second, and third place, we decided to add two finalists and another ten honourable mentions in recognition of the amazing work people put into this project.”