A device as seemingly simple as a tape dispenser is a
lot more complicated in outer space.
Forces and physics that we take for granted on earth
are absent in the vacuum of space. Astronauts don’t have the relative luxury of
gravity, and it makes tearing off a small piece of tape a much bigger
“We work very closely with the Astronaut Office at the
Johnson Space Center, and they tell us about all of the different needs that
they have on the International Space Station,” said Allison Westover, project
manager for the HUNCH program, an initiative that connects high school science,
technology, engineering and technology students with the resources and experts
at NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.
“There are issues like protection from radiation,
building compact exercise devices, vibration isolation chambers … There are
just a number of projects we have that are designed to help astronauts while
they’re living on the space station.”
A group of students from across the Cherry Creek
School District is working diligently to solve such quandaries for the
astronauts who bravely leave the comforts of earth behind. Students from
Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest and Overland high schools reported to the Wings Over
the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver on Jan. 20 to offer possible
solutions for a long list of space-related problems, issues that range from
finding an effective way to preserve food to designing sports and parlor games
that can be played in space.
The group of about 30 CCSD students reported to the
museum with other high school students from across the metro area to garner
feedback from experts. The event served as a kind of midterm review for
students involved in the HUNCH program, a chance to show off progress and get
direct input from engineers and scientists from companies like Lockheed Martin,
Raytheon and Aero Electronic Systems.
Students set up displays that detailed their work
since the beginning of the school year, and listened to experts’ feedback with
a specific end goal in mind.
“The experts have come out here to give the students
feedback on their projects and on how they could improve their designs,”
Westover said. “By May, they need to have a final prototype. On April 14, we’ll
have our final design review in Houston, Texas at the Johnson Space Center.
We’ll have astronauts, engineers and NASA staff reviewing their work.”
If that final review proves successful, these
students’ work may find a place on the International Space Station. HUNCH (short
for High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware) has already
provided such an opportunity for Cherry Creek School District students – last
year, a group of Eaglecrest STEM students designed an experiment that’s set to
launch in to space before the end of the year.
That kind of opportunity is invaluable for students
with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math. The chance to
see a project progress from the drawing board to the International Space
Station is the best kind of route to a future career and a lifelong engagement
“It’s an opportunity for students to engage in
engineering at its highest level,” said Dr. Richard Charles, director of STEM
for the Cherry Creek School District. “They go through what engineers go
through in the field. We’re very excited that this opportunity came to our
district five years ago.”
That excitement was clearly visible on the faces of
the CCSD students who presented a wide range of projects at the Wings Over the
Rockies museum earlier this month. In a former hangar full of planes, jets and
vintage aerospace equipment from the past 100 years, they made their own bid to
make their mark on the history of space exploration.
Austin Condie, 16, and Dallin Fairbourn, 17, were
among the students looking to send their projects in to space. The pair from
Cherokee Trail High School showed off their design for a tape dispenser that
would work in the zero-gravity environment of the ISS. After garnering feedback
from the experts on hand, the pair were already thinking of modifications to
their initial design.
“We need to find a way to put the dispenser of the
side of the device,” Fairbourn said.
But such hurdles in the design process hadn’t dimmed
their very obvious excitement. The prospect of sending a project to space was a
pretty impressive motivator – both students were eager to get back to their
work to secure an out-of-this-world ticket.