Raewyn Duvall’s first experiment with space travel was not as exciting as the science fiction books that fueled her interest and dreams of what lies beyond our planet and galaxy.
As a fifth grader in 2005, Raewyn launched her rocket in science class like all her classmates, but hers caught in a tree. “They gave me a new rocket to launch at home,” she recalled.
Since then, Raewyn has found her niche in engineering, worked at NASA, and is now leading a program to build a small rover that will be launched to the moon. She is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and oversees the Iris Lunar Rover project.
Iris, the size of a shoe box, will be the first robotic rover from the U.S. on the moon. NASA has never before launched a lunar rover. Iris is also unique because of her size. At about four pounds, Iris is going to the moon to “prove that small rovers can survive and operate on the lunar surface,” Raewyn said. “Something on this scale has not been done before.” Iris is the first student-led rover in space and the smallest rover to ever go in space.
The rover will send back photos, and researchers will monitor and evaluate how it interacts with and moves on lunar soil. If this proves successful, it will open doors for more small and less expensive robots to explore space. Iris is expected to travel in winter 2021 aboard an Astrobotic lander. Once on the moon, the mission will last about 72 hours, the life of the battery that will power Iris.
The project began in 2018, and about 250 students have been a part of the process to build and program it. Raewyn became involved in the project near the beginning as she was working in robotics at NASA as part of a student co-op. At NASA, she “fell in love with” the combination of robotics and space.
Her interest in space started much earlier. Raewyn is a fan of science fiction -- Dr. Who mostly but also both Star Wars and Star Trek – and has been since Bright School. She credits first grade teacher Carol Cutrer with pushing her students to read and fourth grade teacher Vickie Hitchcock for reinvigorating her love of school. “I am glad Bright School put an emphasis on a full-rounded education with science and art and shop,” she said. “I loved reading, especially science fiction, and I was always with a book, even at recess and lunch”. Raewyn was talented even then in science and math, recalling one of the best compliments from a classmate was being called “a math wizard.” Her older sisters, Shelley and Linnea, graduated from Bright in 1993 and 1995, and brother, Nathaniel, graduated in 1999.
After graduating from Bright and GPS, she earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Tufts University and spent three years at NASA while earning a master’s degree in robotics at the University of Plymouth. Raewyn said she applied for a NASA internship on a whim in undergrad and enjoyed working in groups there. She became involved in the CubeRover project at NASA, and that led to her working on what became Iris at CMU.
To help Iris get to the moon, the team is seeking donations to the mission beyond the rocket and lander. If you would like to donate and have your name or the name in honor of someone added to the memory of the rover, visit this website:
To learn more, visit: https://irislunarrover.space/