[image-80]Paving the way for science is never as rewarding as it is when it enables young minds to reach for the stars. That’s just what happened when the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) paired with the High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) Program to provide much needed funding for students to showcase their engineering education endeavors.
Two students from Cypress Woods High School in Texas, Robert Lipham and Alie Derkowski, were selected to attend the Technology Student Association (TSA) National Competition in Orlando, Fla., on June 28, 2013, to present the skills they acquired while building Microgravity Science Glove Box (MSG) trainers for NASA. Due to a lack of district funds, however, they almost didn’t get to go. That is, until CASIS stepped in with the resources for these up and coming innovators.
CASIS is the organization that manages the International Space Station’s U.S. National Laboratory and works to maximize the use of the platform for innovation. By working with NASA, commercial partners, foundations, universities and new technology companies, CASIS can create projects and curricula to teach and inspire students across the country. CASIS Communications Manager Patrick O’Neill said, “[It] goes without saying that we are thrilled to be a part of this, as well and we were glad to assist.”
For the project that led to their participation in the TSA competition, the students worked under the cooperation of the HUNCH Program and their high school teachers, Mike Bennett and David Berry. Their goal was to come up with solutions to space station-related challenges.
Design updates made by the students saved NASA money by streamlining the MSG trainers—mockups of the space hardware for the crew to learn with. When the program came to HUNCH, the current cost estimate was $1 million for four MSG high fidelity trainers. HUNCH provided NASA five trainers for less than $250,000.
NASA provided the students a 3-D model of the MSG work volume, showing the flight article and how to assemble it. One of the big cost drivers of a high fidelity training unit is in which aspects of the unit need to be accurate. In this situation, the driver was a correct volumetric representation. The flight unit has large radius edges, but the requirements stated that they did not need the large radius edges, meaning that while each wall of the flight unit was cut out of thick block of aluminum, 2 by 24 by 36 inches, the trainer could come from a thinner 0.25 or 0.5-inch thick block. This kept the wall thickness the same as the flight unit, but limited the machining time; a big cost savings.
NASA engineers mentor students as part of HUNCH and perform quality inspections throughout the fabrication process to ensure quality products. This is done in conjunction with students providing insight back to NASA with videos and pictures documenting progress. The schools provide the technical direction and safe working environments in which to teach the students how to use the tools effectively.
Cypress Woods High School teachers and students have participated in the HUNCH program for more than nine years. HUNCH was created as a nationwide partnership between NASA, high schools and intermediate/middle schools to help design, develop and build hardware and soft goods for the agency.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about this program,” said Bennett. “[It] gives middle school students the direction they need in math and science and then gives high school students the positive influence and confidence to do things they never could have imagined.”
The students learn to use and apply 2-D and 3-D software, drafting, prototyping, basic architecture, critical thinking and problem solving skills. Lipham is in Bennett’s Advanced Engineering and Presentation class and placed second in the National Qualifying Event at the state TSA competition for his hands-on drafting skills, fine-tuned while using the 3-D MSG models provided by HUNCH. This inspired him to enter the national competition based on his achievement.
Derkowski, an advanced architecture student, has also been working in HUNCH on the MSG in Berry's class. Derkowski entered the competition based on her 2-D engineering drafting abilities. Both students were selected to attend the national competition, but much to their dismay, the school district did not have funding for travel to events outside the district.
That is when NASA helped Bennett contact CASIS for help.
“I cannot begin to explain to all the key people involved from HUNCH and CASIS how appreciative and excited we are that they were able to come to our assistance,” said Bennett. “Their generosity and dedication to the success of our students is unprecedented and we just can’t thank them enough.”
Partnerships such as the one between CASIS and HUNCH have had a myriad of positive outcomes for students, teachers and for NASA. Results range from NASA receiving cost effective hardware and soft goods to students obtaining skills and insight to careers in science, technology, engineering and math, thus strengthening NASA’s and the nation’s workforces with the next generation of engineers, scientists and space explorers.