by Paula Wethington
TEMPERANCE – The students who are enrolled in machining classes this year at Bedford High School will soon have an impressive credential to put on college and job applications.
Their department, taught by machining and welding instructor Paul Cook, is one of seven high school industrial arts departments chosen to assist NASA with constructing a metal locker box that will be shipped to the International Space Station.
By the end of the school year, NASA will have 20 such containers fabricated by students across the country. They will use aluminum and stainless steel manufactured to very specific standards and requiring documentation tracking from supplies to completed design. And the students who directly worked on the project will be invited to sign their work when it’s all done.
Senior Shelby Howell, who would like to become an industrial engineer, said after the presentation that she was impressed with “the ability to work with NASA on a project this big.”
About 50 students, along with several faculty and staff members including Superintendent Mark Kleinhans, attended the kickoff meeting Thursday. There were short videos by NASA staff to welcome and thank students who are working on these projects. But most of the session involved three Glenn Research Center representatives giving an explanation of the assignment and hosting a question and answer session.
To explain: the Bedford students will create some of the smaller pieces that are used to build the locker box. Amanda Phelps from NASA will visit the school about every week during the process to coach the students through the work.
For practical reasons, this is a task that is suited to schools that already have industrial arts equipment and a talent pool that can handle the assignment.
This isn’t just a one-year offer. Five other schools are starting year two of the project. Bedford was one of two high schools added this year, in part because of a recommendation Mr. Cook received from a colleague. Mr. Cook said the Bedford students’ track record in the Skills USA competition also was a factor.
“We’re hoping you guys stay with us,” said Nancy Hall, one of the Glenn Research staffers. “We hope this is a larger partnership.”
Astronauts use these containers on the space station for a variety of purposes such as to store personal belongings or house experiments. The NASA representatives explained the inventory is getting low. For example, four boxes were among the cargo lost when the SpaceX supply rocket exploded at launch this summer.
While the assignment details are yet to be determined for the Bedford students, a promise has already been made:
“I would like to get as many kids involved as possible,” Mr. Cook said.
Despite what seems like a lengthy process, there is a benefit to NASA. First, as the Glenn Research Center staff explained, student work on specific projects provides a significant savings on labor costs as compared to handling the work in house or via contractors.
Second, HUNCH partnerships introduce students to a variety of careers in the space industry. The examples given at the presentation include student media classes creating publicity videos of their classmates’ technology work; and culinary arts students creating recipes and menus that astronauts might prepare while in space or in training.
Industrial technology has long been part of the available curriculum at Bedford High School. While Mr. Cook said it is a challenge for some students to fit such a class into their schedules, the courses can be counted toward the applied arts requirement for graduation.
And the job market is good for those who may wish to make such work their chosen career. “Right now there’s a ton of opportunity,” Mr. Cook said.