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Space Exploration with Your Own Hands Hunveyor Conquers the Field

a surveyor mockupA lot of ideas, a lot of measuring and above all teamwork was needed for the Hunveyor to be born. The experimental space probe model offers a great outlook to the world and immediately captures the students. We were talking to the man behind the Hunveyor dream, Szaniszló Bérczi.

It’s great to feel at home in the universe. Szaniszló Bérczi said this towards the end of our chat, but it is a great starting point to understand the motivation that actually gave birth to the first Hunveyor. It is not easy to sum up the history of the Hunveyors spreading over 15 years now, and indeed, we were jumping from topic to topic, touching upon the commitment of teachers, the secrets of Chinese characters to the false but comfortable goals suggested by the television. In the meantime however, a world view surfaced, that looked to the universe like a place where it’s good to be at home and to look around. With space probes for example.

The Hunveyor offers a great outlook to the world and it has the advantage of immediately capturing the students. The experimental space probe model was created in 1997 at the ELTE Department of Technics under the guidance of Szaniszló Bérczi. Its history, however, goes back much longer, to the sixties. This is when the work began on the Surveyor-program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (founded by Tódor Kármán) in Pasadena, California. The aim was the Moon and the preparation of the Apollo-program. Five out of seven Surveyors completed successfully the mission and soft landed on the Moon between 1966 to 1968.

Those days, Szaniszló Bérczi was to be found in the astronomy student circle in Szeged, where he started to pay attention to the success of the Surveyors. He belonged to the class that was lucky enough to learn English, and the language brought astronomy closer to the students. He translated astronomy papers, and to obtain more information, he even contacted NASA. Every story starts with a small step. The story of the Hunveyors started with Szaniszló Bérczi sending some envelopes to the United States. Soon some packages arrived. The sender was Eugene Shoemaker from Caltech. He sent several volumes of Surveyor documentation and maps of the Moon. They are still in Szaniszló Bérczi’s office. It was a real goldmine, but it took some more time to fully exploit it.

Szaniszló Bérczi and Tibor Pacher

Tibor Pacher (left) and Szaniszló Bérczi (right) signing the cooperation agreement. Photo: Tamás Péter Varga

Thirty years have passed between 1967 and 1997, Szaniszló Bérczi worked at several institutions during this time, but the idea of building a space probe based on the operating principle of the Surveyors came seriously up for the first time at the Department of Technics. Not only the background provided by the department, but also the dedication of the students was needed for this to happen, as they discovered the possibility of exploring the space with their own hands. It takes quite some time until you realize you are capable of doing it, but this time is not wasted because it is part of the process of ripening – says Szaniszló Bérczi. The atmosphere was very inspiring, and the feedback quick and spectacular, as next year Hungarian students were taking part at the 29th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference organized by NASA.

Later several other institutions joined to build space probe models, there are fifteen teams at the moment involved with the Hunveyors, the fifteenth being Team Puli with the Iteration2/Hunveyor15 project. Between the teams, there is more of a cooperation than competition, they share their experience but try to reach the next level on their own. This is not only a prestigious industrial product but also a real student magnet – says Szaniszló Bérczi. The most exciting part of development is the field work. Fortunately, it is not necessary to reach Mars or the Moon to find the right field, the Earth and of course Hungary offers some planetary analogue sites where the space probe model can be put to test. The Hunveyors have appeared on the sand dunes of Fülöpháza near Kecskemét, in the opencast bauxit mine at Gánt and even in the United States, in Utah where the desert beautifully resembles the Martian landscape.

Hunveyor probe in a simulated martian atmosphere

Hunveyor in a Martian simulation

Surveyor and Hunveyor rhymes not only in its name but also – to use Szaniszló Bérczi’s beloved phrase – they have the same melody, meaning that the operational minimum is the same with the space probes of NASA and ELTE, as well as the other departments.

The Hunveyors have been on the program of the space education sections for fifteen years now at NASA’s conferences. The audience is thrilled again and again to find out that this educational tool is actually created by the students themselves, thus giving an answer to the question of how to learn and have fun at the same time. And to emphasize the point again: this is real space exploration going on in the classrooms and on the field. Once you have the minimal space probe, different experiments can be added to it. This kind of robotics has everyday games as its starting point – says Szaniszló Bérczi, and as the space probe’s horizon gets wider so does the number of experiments multiply.

Hundreds have taken part in the building of the Hunveyors. A lot depends on the teachers who undertake the extra work, on the school directors who are lenient enough to let the students miss a week in school for the sake of a conference. Once the results come, the enthusiasm grows. A lot of ideas, a lot of measuring and above all teamwork was needed for the Hunveyor to be born. Our fantasy may run away, but the planning of the space probe keeps it in check – says Szaniszló Bérczi adding that once you set out to build the machinery, you become more humble. Still, our possibilities are demonstrated by the fact that space activities enmesh the country.

The educational space probe is partly industry, partly art and it is pretty far from making a living out of it, as it has no everyday connection. The interest would intensify and it would be profitable if children would ask not for toy railways but space probes for Christmas. But it takes the respect for minute work to build these, and not the yearning for success – warns Szaniszló Bérczi. Success is namely the greatest danger, and it is even bigger when accompanied with money – at least that is how he sees the world. Space exploration is great fun and we still have a lot to do here on Earth. Szaniszló Bérczi hopes that young people will sooner or later realize that science is no only beautiful but they can also make a living out of it. “Science is the fix point of our system of knowledge, because tests are common here and a false step will kick back sooner or later. Nature is passionless, we need to watch it and learn from it”. It is about time we go back to the Moon.

Éva Vándor

Last Updated (Friday, 17 May 2013 11:07)

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