A piece of engineering designed by high school students in York County might just end up in the International Space Station.
“It’s very surreal,” said York High School senior, David Patterson. “It’s the feeling of just going out there and making something we know will benefit the space program in the future.”
The four members of York High School’s Engineering Team, Patterson, Tye Scheidegger, Andrew Stewart, and Anna Quach, were flown to the Johnson Space Center in Texas in April after becoming statewide finalists in the NASA HUNCH—High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware—program.
The HUNCH program is an annual competition where high school students from across the country are tasked to design equipment and software with the goal of bringing their design to NASA to be tested on the International Space Station, according to the program’s website.
The school competes in the program each year, but this year was the first time the students became finalists.
Their mechanism is designed to aid in the function of the advanced resistive exercise device, which uses vacuum cylinders to simulate weightlifting for astronauts to exercise, Patterson said. The device has a pivoting arm that, when in a zero gravity environment, can go flying into the air which could create an issue.
The team devised a mechanism that uses a coil spring with a real line attached to a spring clamp which can be hooked onto the arm, then there is a hook attached to the upper portion of the device. The real line then wraps around the hook, which will hold the arm down.
“It’s just astounding to really wrap your head around it because sometimes even the simplest ideas are best,” Scheidegger said.
While the final product sounds simple in explanation, it took most of the school year to perfect for competition. Starting in September, the team worked along with NASA aerospace engineer Andy Paddock, who volunteered his time, sometimes coming to the school every week, to help the students get to the final product.
An integral part of HUNCH is the mentorship that takes place between the students and the engineers, said Yolanda Simmons, the program’s manager.
“It’s really special for me to go back and look at all the important things that I’ve learned in my career and be able to pass those things onto these students before they get into their career,” Paddock said.
On April 16, the group, including the students’ instructor Tony Jones, headed to Texas to present their device during a critical design review along with only 80 other schools from across the nation.
During the event, the team was able to explain their mechanism to visitors present and Jones said it was a clear moment of pride for the students.
While there isn’t a guarantee their mechanism will be used on the International Space Station, the team said they were just happy to have the experience and know their work is something NASA could use in the future.
The trip was funded by the York County School Division, Simmons said. Sandy Hespe, instructional specialist for York County School Division, said the district wanted to ensure the students didn’t get to miss out on the chance of a lifetime.
All of the students agreed the trip has changed the course of their future careers by helping them decide what direction to take. Of the seniors of the group, Patterson recently decided to pursue an engineering degree at Old Dominion University and Scheidegger now plans to attend Thomas Nelson Community College before going into the engineering program at Virginia Tech.
“Just giving us the opportunity to do something like that, it’s something you can only dream of,” Stewart said. “It’s changed everything.”