Kennedy Education

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Spaceflight Up Close
02.25.10
MIT students peer into a Michelin tire used on a space shuttle flight.

Image above: Eight aerospace engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology peer into a Michelin tire used on a space shuttle flight during a recent tour of Kennedy Space Center's Logistics Facility. Image credit: NASA/Troy Cryder
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Eight aerospace engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, recently visited NASA's Kennedy Space Center . . . and not just to enjoy the Florida weather. In fact, they prepped for months during the fall semester for their three-week visit to the Sunshine State.

Charlie De Vivero, Kwami Williams, Jillian James, Carla Perez-Martinez, Ezekiel Willett, Natasha Bosanac, Andrew Wang and Wendy Pino were introduced to the operational aspects of spaceflight and learned about the relationship between design and operations.

Called the January Operational Internship Experience, the program allows the students to spend time at Kennedy, learning how design decisions made years ago influence maintenance requirements today. They also will understand how the relationship between design and operations is extremely difficult to learn in the classroom, but critical for the successful practice of engineering.

"Kennedy gives us a definite insight into our future . . . to what we can do. It's the best preparation we can receive," Vivero said.

Enabling students to gain an operational perspective in the exciting atmosphere of Kennedy could lead to summer employment and eventually new hires by NASA and Kennedy aerospace contractors, thus contributing to NASA's future work force needs.

This program also offers NASA the opportunity to make a unique experience available to students without burdening Kennedy resources during the summer, when the center already is hosting a number of student programs.

Sponsored in part by Kennedy's Education Office and the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium, the program began as a discussion with then-NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory during his visit to MIT in mid-November 2002. In January 2003, 12 students made the inaugural visit. Since then, more than 50 students have been involved in the program.

Once in Florida, students receive introductory briefings and tours of Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, as well as contractor operations, to get an overview of space shuttle, International Space Station, payload and expendable launch vehicle processing.

Then, the students divide into teams to gain a more intimate familiarity with the Constellation, Engineering and Launch Vehicle Processing directorates. Students will have the opportunity to interview senior engineers about the history of the programs they are working on and how daily activities are influenced by the initial design.

"Every day we see a different aspect of Kennedy Space Center and I'm just blown away from everything . . . the beauty of the center is its uniqueness," Williams said.

Formal papers describing their experience and what they learned were required from all students after their visit. In the future, Kennedy and the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium hope to expand this program to students across the United States.

Frank Ochoa-Gonzaless
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center