Friday April 24th marked the beginning of Flight Week at Ellington Airport in Houston for the NASA HUNCH Extreme Science Experiments Program. In this program, high school students fly on the C-9B airplane and experience weightlessness as the plane makes multiple parabolas. It is not just for fun, although I have heard that it is quite enjoyable. The students are testing their own new technologies and processes. By “own,” I mean that they actually brainstormed, designed, redesigned, and built new hardware to be used in everyday space life.
What I admire about the HUNCH program is that students become knowledgeable about what a piece of space hardware should look and feel like, they work both with computers and with their hands, and the hardware in some cases is actually used in NASA programs. Two past projects, thanks to generous sponsor CASIS, were added to the International Space Station’s manifest to be tested on our DreamUp- NanoRacks platform. On our Express Rack they will be tested not just for a few seconds in microgravity, but for months.
I’ve been attending their events for a couple of years now, and each year the projects are more and more sophisticated and robust.
On Friday I had the pleasure of sitting down with each group and hearing all about their work. I saw the following:
· A filter that can prevent CO2 from pooling up around an astronaut’s head (when in sleeping chambers, for example), from Team Lakewood
· A chamber designed to keep fruit fresh for more than four months by preventing gas stratification from Team Wapato
· A camera that floats, but doesn’t wander away using single and double axel spinners from Team Platteville
· A powerful forward-flow peristaltic pump from Team North Carolina School of Science and Math
· A robust Vortex pump from Team Warren Tech
· A handy device that tracks your tools or personal items lest they float off and get lost from Team East Troy
· A spinning zero-mass scale that can weigh small quantities of materials or measure growth from Team Tri-County
· an automatic docking mechanism from Team Jackson Hole
Friday they had the nerve-wracking task of defending their project to a group of very experienced NASA engineers, but all teams passed the test.
Now they are ready to fly! Testing their handiwork on the parabolic flight allows the team to see what glitches, if any, the need to fix. If one team member succumbs to airsickness, the others rally to perform the experiment.
I wish the students much success in this and future aerospace adventures!