Students Build Hardware for NASA

NASA received a shipment of training hardware and mock-ups. The new hardware is designed to simulate elements of the International Space Station. And all of this training hardware was built by high school students. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson explains.

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Images of the International Space Station loom on a giant video screen, serving as backdrop for dozens of gadgets and mock-ups. The average observer wouldn't know how to identify all these space products, but we're told we're looking at smoke indicator units, internal vehicular activity handrails and treadmill vibration isolation system rope assemble units -- whatever that means. What's clear, is the students who made this stuff know exactly what it is and how it works. Matt Wallila is a senior participating in NASA's HUNCH, a program that teaches high school students how to create hardware for space.

"When I first started working for NASA and the HUNCH program three years ago, I wanted to just work on the family farm and didn't really know what I was going to do after high school. During my second year, I decided I would become an engineer and then some time during my second year, I decided that I was going to work for NASA. And I'm proud to say that I will be receiving the first summer intership at JSC for HUNCH this summer."

NASA really does use the equipment and hardware the students build. ISS Deputy Program Manager Kirk Shireman says the space station crew will use these pieces to train.

"Not only do we train crew members, but we have thousands of people who work in the space station program, really on all our manned programs. It's used to train the people who operate the hardware, it's used to train engineers, it's actually used to train the trainers. So NASA gets a tremendous amount of benefit from the hardware that you guys have developed."

Ten Houston schools and one Montana school built the componants this year. Clear Creek High School Machine Shop Teacher Bill Gibbs says up to now the schools built only training hardware, but for the first time NASA has contracted for flight hardware.

"The difference in flight hardware and training hardware -- training hardware, not everything on it has to function because you're only training certain -- pulling out certain things. Flight hardware has to be fully functional in every aspect and the quality of work has to be flawless."

And Gibbs adds, NASA gets to save money on training equipment, while at the same time teachers have an additional tool to develop a love for math and science in their students. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...