SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. (WKBN) –– Seven students at Slippery Rock University are helping NASA develop space exploration technology.

Some of it could be used to land on Mars one day.

Part of that work is developing a tiny microscope, made possible by a $25,000 grant from NASA.

Recently there has been a spiked interest in the debate about aliens. Are they real? 

On Friday the U.S. government released a long-awaited report about aliens, whether or not unidentified flying objects seen by Navy pilots were alien spacecraft. The report was inconclusive … but didn’t rule out the possibility. 

What’s that have to do with Slippery Rock? The students there are helping NASA to develop and design space exploration technology, namely working on a compact microscope.

The microscope will only be about 4 inches tall by 4 inches wide.

It’s going to collect samples of soil from Mars and it will be able to analyze the soil there itself instead of sending it back to Earth to be viewed by scientists. 

The microscope needs to be able to stand up to the harsh conditions on Mars too. 

“Right now NASA is sending these robots to planets like Mars to study the soil there and the atmosphere. It’s very hard for NASA to get a big machine there because of the capacity of the rocket,” said Sagar Bhandari, an assistant professor in the physics and engineering department at Slippery Rock.

This kind of research is normally done at advanced research-intensive institutions, known as Research I universities, such as Harvard. 

The seven students are going to be developing and researching the tiny microscope, as well as testing it and making simulations to make it feel like it’s on Mars.

It’s going to have to stand up to temperatures as low as -340 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this stage in the design they have a plastic, 3-D printed model but the end result will be made of metal. It can fit in the palm of your hand, but the developers said the end product will be much smaller.

“It’s a great opportunity as an undergraduate at Slippery Rock and we have a new engineering program,” said Charleigh Rondeau, a junior industrial systems engineer major.

“There’s a lot of interesting projects in the works and I’d say this is one of the first projects in the physics and engineering department that’s on this scale,” said Ashton Bloom, a junior physics undergraduate.

The students will be working on this all summer, about 20 hours per week, and they expect to begin testing in September.