Members of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Engineering Center of Excellence are putting their skills to the test this year as they participate in the NASA HUNCH (High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) design competition, a challenge which tasks high school students with producing hardware training items for the International Space Station (ISS).
This year, SSM students are working on three projects as part of the program—a multi-tool ID badger holder, a mobility arm on a robotic duster, and a lunar bamboo greenhouse. Students just completed the Preliminary Design Review, which is a science fair style poster presentation that outlines the students’ ideas for what their prototype will be, how they will build it, and how they will test it. Students presented their posters to NASA mentors as well as Glenn Johnson, the head of the design and prototype competition. The students will use the feedback they received on their initial ideas as they continue to build their design prototypes.
According to its website, the mission of the HUNCH program “is to empower and inspire students through a Project Based Learning program where high school students learn 21st century skills and have the opportunity to launch their careers through the participation in the design and fabrication of real-world valued products for NASA.” Over 200 schools across the country participate in a variety of challenges through the HUNCH program, aiming to improve the lives of the International Space Station crew.
Engineering COE director Alex Jones discussed how SSM students are well-equipped for the challenge. “The engineering projects that our students complete each year is very similar in principle to the NASA HUNCH competition,” said Jones. “The expectations of our engineering projects are very similar and students even prepare several poster presentations highlighting their work much akin to NASA HUNCH. Our program provides students with a deep understanding on applying the engineering design process to any type of project. Students also have a leg up with various hard skills such as modeling and prototyping, 3D printing, laser cutting, and general fabrication.”
Engineering student Rose Nordaune Young ‘24, who is working on two of the design projects is looking forward to putting her skills to use. “Last year I got some modeling experience with a model bridge that I made, so it has been fun to develop my modeling skills to make the lunar greenhouse. I’m also working on the design team to create a robotic arm that can pull itself along a handrail on the ISS. I have not had much experience with robotics so it has been challenging yet rewarding to be immersed in a new branch of engineering this year.” Senior Copeland Abel echoed his classmate’s sentiments, “My favorite part [of the HUNCH project] is applying the engineering skills that Mr. Jones taught us into a real-world project that the world could potentially see.”
The next step in the challenge will happen this spring with the Critical Design Review (CDR) where students present their prototypes and are judged on the effectiveness of it. After the CDR presentation is given, NASA evaluates the projects from all over the US and chooses several projects from each region to present their ideas to NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.