Psyche mission capstone team prepared for the real world of space exploration and research

May 11, 2020

While the ASU-led NASA Psyche mission launch is still a little more than two years away (projected for August 2022), teams of undergraduate students throughout the U.S. have been working on their senior capstone projects for the mission, applying their knowledge and skills to real-world projects.

At ASU, one such team, with the project title “Sampling System for Hypothesized Surfaces,” has two major milestones to celebrate: It is the first School of Earth and Space Exploration team to complete their Psyche mission capstone project, and each student will be graduating this May. A cross-section view of the Psyche Asteroid Sampling System. This view shows three of the microspine anchoring systems, the instrument containment unit, the linear actuator, and the electronics for powering and controlling the systems housed in the cylinder. Image by SSHS Team/ASU Download Full Image

The school’s team includes May 2020 graduates John Chambers (bachelor’s degree in astrophysics), Mason Hoey (bachelor’s degree in exploration systems design), Jacob Kramer (bachelor’s degree in astrobiology and biogeosciences), Eric Laughlin (bachelor’s degree in astrobiology and biogeosciences), Johnathan McDougal (bachelor’s degree in exploration systems design), Ciara Sypherd (bachelor’s degrees in aerospace engineering – astronautics and astrobiology and biogeosciences) and Kaitlin Webber (bachelor’s degree in astrophysics).

Their Psyche capstone project envisions a future space mission to Psyche where, instead of orbiting as the current mission plans to do, a spacecraft would land on the asteroid and explore and sample the surface of Psyche, which is likely made largely of metal.

The team project, with mentorship from the School of Earth and Space Exploration Associate Professor and astrophysicist Christopher Groppi, was to design a prototype sampling system capable of effectively extracting scientific samples from the asteroid’s surface, keeping in mind other constraints like gravity, and potentially creating a caching system for the samples.

As part of our series of features celebrating students graduating this May 2020, we reached out to this team to learn more about their capstone project and their plans for the future. 

Question: What was your team’s favorite part of this project?

A: Our favorite part was the fabrication process. Beyond designing something and doing a bunch of paperwork, we actually got to build something. We soldered, programmed, welded, machined, laser cut, molded and casted, and utilized various other power tools for constructing our project. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic our ability to fully bring our project to life was impeded. However, we laid the foundations and did a lot of the work for future capstone teams to complete this project.

Q: What was the most difficult thing you accomplished as a team?

A: Obtaining an ultrasonic drill was probably the hardest part. It's such a niche and expensive device, and we had to reach out to several companies and figure out how to get it delivered to us during the pandemic.

Q: Why did you pick the Psyche mission for your capstone?

A: We picked the Psyche capstone because we are particularly ambitious individuals who wanted to break new ground in space exploration and robotics.

Q: What was special about this project?

A: This project was special because it was completely open-ended. We could get incredibly creative. It's also a NASA-affiliated project, so that sounded pretty cool and important. We even ended up reaching out to some scientists and engineers from JPL to provide insight and collaborate with us.

Q: What is something fun or unique about this team that you could share?

A: We were a fairly academically diverse group of people, so it was nice to work with various scientists and engineers. Thankfully, our team member Ciara Sypherd was also working on another Psyche capstone project involving a rover with her aerospace engineering team, and this allowed us to think things through better and develop a comprehensive system.

Q: Does everyone on the team want to work for NASA or a space mission in the future?

A: Everyone on the team wants to be involved in some space mission, but maybe not just with NASA. A couple of us will be moving onto grad school and getting into research.

About the ASU-led NASA Psyche Mission Capstone Program

The NASA Psyche mission capstone courses are culminating, project-based courses undertaken by university students in the final (senior) year of university. A strength of capstone courses is that they involve students in applying their knowledge and skills to real-world projects. The Psyche mission is developing Psyche-focused projects for capstone courses across a range of disciplines. Learn more and get involved at

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Barrett Honors College recognizes five Outstanding Graduates at May 2020 virtual convocation

May 11, 2020

Every student in Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University is talented and special in their own way. In every class there are many accomplished students with skills in a vast array of disciplines. 

Each spring, Barrett Honors College recognizes Outstanding Graduates in several categories who are representative of the high achievement of all honors students. Five members of the May 2020 graduating class have been named Outstanding Graduates of Barrett Honors College and will be recognized in the virtual honors convocation on May 11.* Barrett Honors College sign Download Full Image

“The outstanding graduates represent excellence in the particular values of the ASU Charter: They are leaders, they are accomplished student scholars, and they are true university and community citizens,” said Barrett Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs.

These students have excelled in academics and research, as well as contributed significantly to their communities through research, leadership, volunteerism, public service and the arts.

ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate Award: Justin Heywood

Heywood is graduating summa cum laude with a double major in political science and in civic and economic thought and leadership with a minor in Spanish and an overall GPA of 4.0. 

He ia a Tillman Scholar, a Lincoln Scholar and a Spirit of Service Scholar. He was a Fulbright Summer Institute awardee in Wales, and he was the University Student Government-Tempe director of civic engagement and an Army ROTC cadet. 

Heywood was an Arizona Senate page and page captain and served as a campaign intern for Sen. John McCain. He took part in the Inside-Out Arizona Department of Corrections program and in Talent Match at Barrett. He is the co-founder and president of BridgeASU and served as both a community assistant and teaching assistant at Barrett.

Outstanding Research Award: Rohini Nott

Nott is graduating summa cum laude with a double major in biology (biology and society) and business (public service and public policy) and an overall GPA of 4.0. 

She is a National Merit Scholar, a Helios Scholar at the Translational Genomics Consortium and a Flinn Scholar. She received the School of Life Sciences Outstanding Service Award and has served as patient advocate and clinic coordinator for the Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW) Community Initiative in downtown Phoenix. 

Her research experiences and contributions have been extraordinary. She has completed six different research experiences as a research intern between high school and her undergraduate studies, and she has published three scientific research papers, four encyclopedia entries and presented six times at national or regional research conferences. Her topic at many of those conferences is also the subject of her thesis on stapled peptide analogs and their use in cancer therapy.

Outstanding Creative Work Award: Adele Etheridge Woodson

Etheridge Woodson is graduating summa cum laude with a major in music and a certificate in arts entrepreneurship with an overall GPA of 3.93.

She is a composer at Mophonics Music and Sound in Los Angeles, engaging with full-time composers to score short-form films. 

During her time as an undergraduate honors student, she was the assistant stage manager of the Phoenix Symphony, installed an original electronic work using her own violin samples in the ASU Art Museum and had her first string quartet composition premiered at the Vienna Summer Music Festival in Austria. 

Her nominating professor said that Etheridge Woodson is “the most mature, intelligent and engaged student with whom I have worked, and has contributed greatly to the local music community as a positively empowered woman in the music business and as a film composer.”

Outstanding Service Award: Noah Appelhans

Appelhans is graduating summa cum laude with a double major in business (human resources) and business (public service and public policy). He will additionally receive two certificates, one in political economy and one in public administration and management. He is a President’s Scholar and has an overall GPA of 4.0. 

For four years, he was an operations assistant in the Morrison School of Agribusiness. He also served as the secretary of the student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management and a Human Event teaching assistant. He was the head writing tutor at Barrett-Polytechnic for two years. 

In the summer of 2019, Appelhans won an HR Officer Internship at the Department of Defense National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. He was nominated by six of his professors at ASU-Polytechnic, who said Appelhans “exemplifies academic excellence, leadership, a commitment to community and a love of learning and scholarship.”

Outstanding Leadership Award: Primrose Dzenga

Dzenga is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in global studies and creative writing and a master’s degree in political science. She is a Lincoln Scholar, a Garcia Scholar, a member of the Clinton Global Initiative University, a member of the Barrett Oral History project, and the recipient of a Zimbabwe National Arts Literary Award for her poetry and nonfiction writing. 

She founded and has directed for the last four years the Machikichori Citrus Reforestation Project in Zimbabwe, a 12,000-tree community orange orchard run by rural women in Wedza, Zimbabwe. She won a Barrett Global Explorers Grant this past summer to travel to three continents to conduct research on citrus farming techniques that will help in her emergence as a true global leader in international development.

* Due to the coronavirus pandemic and public health recommendations for social distancing, Barrett Honors College is holding its 2020 spring convocation in a virtual, online ceremony scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, May 11. The format may be different, but our enthusiasm for celebration has never been more inspired and we encourage you to join us in honoring Barrett graduates. Find a link to the virtual honors convocation ceremony on the Barrett site.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College