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Local students make part for NASA

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press NASA representative Stacy Hale speaks to Lonnie Dalgord, Cooper Kaufman, and Kevin Fournier recently in the machining lab at the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District. Kaufman was part of the NASA project when it first started at the DSISD.

ESCANABA — Machining students at the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD) had a special visitor the first week of school — NASA Representative Stacy Hale, the creator and co-founder of the NASA program HUNCH. Darrell Mullins, machine tool technologies instructor at the DSISD, and his students created doors at the end of the 2018-2019 school year to add to lockers that will travel to the International Space Station. The lockers hold equipment and experiments that are loaded on Earth, then taken to the space station and returned to Earth in the same locker.

“They took on a tough part and they made it,” said Hale.

Hale does not visit schools often, but when he received a report from the assigned Northern Michigan University mentor to the DSISD he had to come to the school and take a look for himself.

“I received a report from the person I assigned to mentor this school,” Hale said. “They did a good job, it (fabricated piece) was just off a few thousandths of an inch. But they look really promising for this next year.”

Because last year’s piece was off the smallest of measurements, it will be considered training hardware, class three. This school year, the students will create class one hardware that will be in the space station.

The NASA HUNCH program allows schools all over the U.S. to work on projects for NASA. Hale is the lead engineer on the program.

“The program has reached out to 201 participating schools in 38 states. There are 17 organizational partners and 2,354 students that have created 489 items that have flown to the International Space Station,” Hale said. “In Michigan there are three.”

The DSISD in Escanaba is the only school in the Upper Peninsula participating in the program. Mullins sent a scope of work to the NASA HUNCH program and provided information about the capabilities at the school, the students, what he teaches in his machining class and that he would like to get involved in the aspect of HUNCH.

“We found out about this time last year that we would be considered for the program,” said Mullins. “I had to fill out a process plan and recommendation for what we could do for HUNCH.”

Thanks to Mullins initiative, DSISD was chosen by NASA HUNCH members to be a good school to add to their program. Testing material was sent to Mullins after his information was read.

“We sent him some drawings and said which of these things would you like to make … Mullins chose the top and bottom panels for a locker,” Hale said. “So we sent him the materials and we sent him some tooling as kind of a test.”

Mullins received the materials and plans and after doing well he received a space act agreement from NASA that allows the federal government to send property to other organizations.

“We will be delivering our first good part in about a month,” Mullins said.

Each part takes about three to six hours to create. According to Mullins the time limit is because they only have two hour programs and it cuts into the time.

“We are making a top locker door and a bottom locker door. Some other school is creating the box and our doors go on either end. The lockers are used to put experiments in to travel to the space station, then the experiment is taken out, performed, then returned to the locker. The locker and finished experiment is then brought back to Earth,” noted Mullins.

Hale created the HUNCH program to give opportunities to students to work with NASA. After the program ran for four months Hale was asked what the name of it was and he came up with the acronym HUNCH, High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware. The program only had hardware projects at the beginning and has grown into other disciplines — design and prototyping, software, training and space flight hardware manufacturing, sewn softgoods training and space flight manufacturing, culinary science, video and media production.

“These days it’s not just hardware, it’s soft goods, culinary, design prototyping and it’s not only in high schools, but post-secondary and middle schools,” said Hale.

Hale didn’t realize when he created the program in 2003 that it was going to be such an incredible win-win for everybody.

“Here they get to work on real projects that have a significant amount of meaning to them, not just for the students, but for the teachers in the school district. They would spend literally thousands of dollars for cutters and material to provide them an activity to learn on, but then we make that cost, we provide that opportunity,” Hale said. “So it’s a win for NASA, it’s a win for the school, it’s a win for the school district, and it’s a win for the students.”

It’s hard to find a project where everybody wins.

Working with different program offices, space industry partners, input directly from astronauts, HUNCH hopes to provide many different avenues to give students an opportunity to be part of the global effort to research in space.

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