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Warren Tech students participate in challenge at NASA Johnson Space Center

The four person team tested an autonomous, orbital insertion device in a simulated microgravity environment

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Warren Tech students traveled to NASA's Johnson Space Center last month to put their skills to the test on real space problems, alongside real NASA scientists and engineers.

Students nationwide submitted proposals to design orbital insertion devices and test them at Johnson Space Center's unique astronaut training facilities. The Warren Tech team was chosen to test its satellite launching experimental device onto a precision air bearing floor "microgravity environment," which is used by NASA for astronaut training and engineering testing.

The challenge involved designing solutions to technical problems, or improvements to existing solutions, identified by NASA scientists and engineers who use simulated microgravity environments in their work.

“This was the most rich and difficult problem for them to solve,” said Liz Hudd, science instructional specialist at Warren Tech, who facilitated the team project.

All teams were assigned a NASA engineer or scientist to guide them through the engineering design process before arriving.

The team representing Warren Tech included four students, Javan Sandt, a junior studying computer science; Aidan McTague, a junior studying computer science; Zoe Maxwell, a senior studying STEM; and Mitchell Bowen, a senior studying graphic design. Each student had a different role on the team — everything from writing code and machining, to engineering, to designing a mission badge.

“The test was OK,” said Maxwell, who acted as the team leader. “We were one of two fully autonomous teams that week.”

One of the main objectives of the project was for the launcher to hit a specified target. The Warren Tech team failed to do that.

“We got pretty close, but the 3D printed part had a lot of friction,” Maxwell explained.

Although the team did not hit the target, Hudd said she believes they succeeded at the bigger goal.

"The goal was to understand the engineering problem. And they went through it and it was problem after problem, and I think it was life changing for them just to be down there and be part of it,” Hudd said.

For McTague, who has always had an interest in space exploration, this experience at NASA has fueled his desire to pursue aeronautics and aerospace engineering full time.

Maxwell is also looking into ways to intern at NASA and expand her knowledge in that specified field.

“We need to get more kids involved in projects like this because you cannot duplicate this unless you are actually doing it,” Hudd said. “We have a lot of bright kids and NASA is looking for the best and the brightest.”

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