“Design for extreme environments” sounds like a new cable show, but it’s actually a class at RISD that focuses on building habitats for truly challenging locations—like the moon. Last fall, NASA asked the students to design a mobile dwelling for its next manned mission to the moon, scheduled for 2020. “NASA wanted a rover that could house four people for two weeks in 24-hour sunlight,” says student Zack Kamen.

One of the biggest obstacles the students faced was how to keep astronauts from tracking lunar dust, which can be as harmful to human lungs as asbestos, into the habitat. The solution was to build airtight “suitlocks” into each habitat. The suitlock designs the RISD students used worked like lunar mudrooms. To leave the habitat, astronauts climb through a hatch and slide their legs directly into a six-foot spacesuit. The astronaut’s life-support pack is mounted on the suitlock door, and when the door closes, the pack snaps into place on the back of his suit. Then the astronauts depressurize the lock and go exploring. “It’s like a holding tank on the exterior of the moon rover, so the suits never actually come inside,” Kamen says.

WHAT’S NEXT: NASA will be using the students’ research to plan its 2020 expedition. “We’re going to have to get together in 2020 and have a big party,” says RISD student Julianne Snow Gauron.