Origami in Space Engineering: Rediscovering the Meaning of Discovery

我们通过发表论文来表彰学生 STEM 写作比赛的前 11 名获奖者。这是李勋孙的。



这篇文章由来自韩国首尔Cornerstone Collegiate Academy of Seoul的17岁的Hoonsun Lee撰写,是学习网络第二届年度STEM写作比赛的前11名获奖者之一我们收到了3,741份参赛作品。

Origami in Space Engineering: Rediscovering the Meaning of Discovery

Rocket science is a discipline so notoriously difficult that the phrase “It’s not rocket science” is used to mark how easy something is. In space, scientists have to inhabit the uninhabitable with the bare essentials that a rocket can carry. So it can be hard to believe that a skill taught in kindergarten could be the next big discovery in the most difficult discipline in science.

Origami, the ancient art of paper folding, transforms the potential of a piece of material without changing its volume or weight. Folds maximize the functionality of a material, as seen when a piece of construction paper transforms into a standing crane or a jumping frog. In space engineering, origami is applied as a method of organizing luggage for space travel, increasing flexibility of spatial structures, and improving the accuracy of robotic motion.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has the lead in origami space engineering. Origami, with its folds, compresses materials and packs them in the smallest of volumes. In the words of Robert Salazar, an intern at the laboratory, “origami offers the potential to take a vast structure and get it to fit within the rocket,” therefore “greatly magnifying what we are capable of building in space.”

Not only is origami used for compression, but it’s also used for robotic exploration. Starshade, an occulter in NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program, the New Worlds Mission, prevents starlight from interfering with exoplanet pictures that the telescope takes. Its unfolding resembles a flower blooming; the petals spread out from the “stem,” which disconnects from the occulter and transforms into an independent telescope. Jeremy Kasdin, the principal investigator, expects that the mission will “allow us to directly image Earth-size, rocky exoplanets.” Origami makes this expansion possible without investing the energy and resources to have a human astronaut manually perform the mission.

As seen in the Starshade occulter, origami is one of the simplest and most elegant sets of directions scientists can relay to robots. While robots can perform actions humans are incapable of, human instincts cannot be programmed into them. However, the mechanical nature of material folding makes directions far more accurate and precise for robots to understand. Origami serves as a common language robots can easily interpret in space. Self-folding robots, developed by Samuel Felton, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, and his team, are one of the first adopters of this language. Electricity passes through the circuit board like blood running through veins, and the robot walks away after bending its body parts. Dr. Felton believes such robots could be deployed in space missions in the far future.

Origami space engineering teaches us that difficult problems often have simple solutions. Science celebrates discoveries and breaking new ground. Less spotlight is shone on rediscoveries; what we already possess can be given a new lease on life if we believe in its potential. In space, the final frontier, origami engineering serves as a humble reminder for scientists that a kind gaze at our individual potential can unleash the ultimate frontier within all of us.

Works Cited

Callahan, Molly. “New Professor Creates Self-Folding, Origami Robots.” News@Northeastern, 24 Oct. 2016.

Chang, Kenneth. “Origami Inspires Rise of Self-Folding Robot.” The New York Times, 7 Aug. 2014.

Good, Andrew. “What Looks Good on Paper May Look Good in Space.” Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 22 Sept. 2017.

Lee, Elizabeth. “Ancient Origami Art Becomes Engineers’ Dream in Space.” Voice of America, 26 Oct. 2017.

Rodriguez, Joshua. “Flower Power: NASA Reveals Spring Starshade Animation.” Exoplanet Exploration, 24 Sept. 2020.