About a half-dozen Montana high school students are preparing to fabricate a part that will eventually end up flying on the International Space Station.
The students at Billings Career Center are part of a partnership called “High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware” or HUNCH. The students create hardware, software, and other goods for astronauts.
The students at the Billings Career Center are to machine one part, it’s a latch for a storage locker that will contain science experiments on the International Space Station or ISS.
Florence Gold is the contact for several states, including Montana and Wyoming.
She says while this part may be small, it’s critical, “Because if it breaks then the locker door will open and we would have something floating around the Space Station that we don’t want.”
Like mice or radioactive materials used in science experiments the ISS astronauts are conducting in space.
Mike Wagner teaches CNC machining and welding. He wants his class to fabricate this part because it was the most complicated on the single storage locker.
“It is pretty complex. It has to be machined from all sides. It’s a 3-dimensional part made out of aluminum,” says Mr. Wagner.
He says every time the part is turned to be machined there’s a chance for an error. He says participating in HUNCH gives his students real-world experience because each component faces strict quality controls and documentation because it will be sent to the ISS.
Tayler Weber, a senior at Billings Senior and the Career Center, was part of the HUNCH project last year. He is one of two returning students this academic year.
“It’s always something that’s fun to learn,” Weber says.
He says he’s not sure yet what he wants to do as a career, but he says the experience with HUNCH, “Does help out with jobs and whatnot. A lot of people do look at you before a lot of other people, considering you did work for NASA and most times you’re a trustworthy person if you do.”
HUNCH was created in part to get more U.S. students involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. It’s expanded beyond the theoretical and gets into hands-on product development and fabrication.
In Montana, there are only two schools –The Billings Career Center and Laurel High School - are part of the HUNCH program. Laurel was the first in the country. Now over 100 schools participate.