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NASA Trains the Next Generation of Scientists with Innovative Programming

Photo: Courtesy of NASA

Today’s students are becoming tomorrow’s scientists and explorers thanks to NASA’s abundance of hands-on opportunities in STEAM fields.

The workplace of the future

Students are going from the drawing board to the launch pad and beyond with none other than world aeronautics cornerstone, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). By 3D printing astronautic tools and even launching high-powered rockets, students make their ideas into reality and hone the tech skills needed for success in the workplace of the future.

With an extensive portfolio of learning activities, NASA has partnered with formal and informal education providers in order to sharpen students’ skills in critical thinking, analysis, hardware fabrication and software programming. As they gain real-world experience, students play an active role in the research and development of next-generation propulsion systems, flight hardware and human research programs to benefit humanity and take humans beyond low-Earth orbit.

And while finishing first may be fun, it’s never the most important aspect of these educational opportunities. Each program is designed for students to apply the lessons learned in class toward relevant research in the engineering, aeronautics and aerospace industries. With hundreds of student opportunities at 10 NASA centers across the country, this article will highlight three supported by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  

Where no 3D printer has gone before

As humans venture farther from Earth, their resources will be limited and resupply missions are expensive. Young innovators are addressing this issue through the Future Engineers space challenges, a multi-year education initiative helping kids research and engineer solutions for space exploration. Future Engineers conducts these challenges through collaboration between NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation.

Students learn to use 3D modeling software to submit inventions capable of solving real needs in space — but 3D printers aren’t required, only bright ideas and free digital software. Since 2014, students have created thousands of designs, ranging from tools, containers and medical devices. This includes the first student-designed 3D printed part in space as well as two medical device designs intended for the journey to Mars. The next challenge begins in fall 2017. (Sign up now at www.futureengineers.org.)

Soaring to STEAM success

Each year, young people prove it really is rocket science as they demonstrate advanced rocketry and engineering skills with mile-high rocket launches. During NASA’s Student Launch, students from home, middle and high schools as well as colleges across the nation build and fly serious flight/scientific hardware. After launching their single-stage rockets, students collect real-time data from onboard payloads, then deploy automated parachute systems to safely land for reuse.

Students benefit by engaging in the same processes used by NASA engineers, emulating the criteria for flight design reviews and safety protocols. This ensures that designs align with current projects, including the Space Launch System, NASA’s next deep-space exploration rocket.

Revving up for rover racing

Could you tackle an obstacle course designed to mimic the terrestrial terrain of distant moons, planets and asteroids? For more than a quarter of a century, that’s what students have done during NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge. High school and college students design chassis and drive-train systems capable of providing proper gear ratio, then build a rover using metal lathes, drill presses, welding tools and other machinery.

As if an “out-of-this-world” course isn’t challenging enough, students are prohibited from purchasing wheels that are commercially available; This ensures wheels are a creative design straight from the minds of students and not off-the-shelf products. In years past, wheels were made from aircraft-grade aluminum alloys, silicone rubber molds and even soy-based proteins via 3D printing.

Experience is the best teacher

NASA brings diverse, young minds together, inspiring them to pursue STEAM careers. Each successful event brings us one step closer to another generation of scientists and explorers. (Learn more by following NASA Education on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NASAedu, or on the web at https://www.nasa.gov/offices/education.)

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