The Fruits of Labor – From Earth to Space

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has submitted a project to the Fragile Oasis community. 
The vision for Fragile Oasis is for it to become a vehicle to effect real change. We want to provide a means for people and organizations to collaborate and develop synergy toward overcoming our planet’s challenges. We want to encourage people to make a difference, and to help organizations that are striving to make the world a better place reach their goals.
I have been very impressed with the projects that have already been submitted.  But, in this post, I’d like to highlight a project that I have been involved with personally.  The members of the  Johnson Space Center Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (JSC-EWB) have been volunteering their time for several years to develop a fruit dryer for the L‘Esperance Children’s Aid Orphanage in Rwanda.
Several JSC-EWB members with dried fruit – (left to right) Angela Cason, Tom Bryan, Jake Garan, Matthew Fiedler, Tyler-Blair Sheppard, Lauren Cordova.  Not pictured is Samantha Snabes.
L’Esperance is near and dear to my heart. I visited the orphanage in 2006 during a trip to the area with the humanitarian organization Manna Energy Foundation. I founded Manna in 2005 outside of my work with NASA and it has no affiliation with my “day job.”
The orphanage director, Victor Monroy, is committed to developing L’Esperance into a financially self-sufficient community that can also provide employment to the orphans when they reach adulthood. One of the ways they are doing this is to grow fruit on the orphanage grounds, and staffing the orchards with adult community members, who were orphaned in childhood themselves.
The orphanage plans to produce up to 18,000 kg per year of wet, cored peeled pineapple, 16000kg/year of guava, and 24,000 kg of wet, peeled, sliced mango. While some of the fruit feeds the children and staff of the orphanage, the goal is to dry most of the fruit to sell at market, producing a source of income from just under five metric tons of organically-grown, sustainably-dried premium snack food per year, and perhaps 50,000 jars of mango preserves.  As I write this, members of the JSC-EWB are at the orphanage installing the first prototype solar fruit drying systems.
Besides the solar dryer, the team is investigating kitchen waste heat, dedicated wood stoves, and biogas as potential sustainable heat sources for the many months in Rwanda when sunlight is insufficient to dry the fruit.  This trip will help to characterize the overall systems engineering of the project, and build expertise with fruit preparation, handling, and storage issues at the orphanage.
As the team prepared to leave Houston for Rwanda, they ran their prototype solar fruit dryer through a test program which produced some great dried fruit. The team was kind enough to send me a sample of dried pineapple on the Progress Cargo ship which docked to the International Space Station in June. It’s great to have this tasty fruit up here as a reminder of this great project, and the hard work of all the team members to improve the lives of those at the orphanage.
Keep submitting those great projects to Fragile Oasis!