Meridian News
Students Named Finalists in NASA HUNCH Design Competition
June 17, 2020

Pre-Engineering students Robert Paddack, Austin Rouser and Tanner Dollar had a stellar ending to their time at Meridian Technology Center.

The trio spent their last year in Meridian Technology Center’s STEM Academy working on a lunar flagpole design for NASA’s High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) outreach program. NASA recently recognized their design as a winning project.

HUNCH’s science, technology, energy and mathematics (STEM) outreach efforts connect students with new educational experiences designed to assist NASA with projects for the International Space Station.

Students who participated in the HUNCH program focused their creative efforts on creating a sleeping station design, designing a flagpole to withstand the force of the shuttle’s return to earth, or developing tent stakes that would help reduce dust entering clean rooms when astronauts begin long-term lunar living in 2024. Paddack, Rouser and Dollar focused their efforts on the flag pole design.

“HUNCH is an ideal program for tech centers,” said Debbie Short, an instructor in the STEM Academy’s Pre-Engineering program. “Career and technical education has a focus on project-based learning programs. HUNCH helped to spark the imagination and creativity of students across Meridian’s campus while bringing awareness to the broad scope and application of STEM.”

For students in Short’s program, the project aligns with the senior capstone Engineering Development and Design course. Students traditionally spend a semester researching, designing, and testing a solution to a real-world challenge they have identified.

While working on their projects, students had the opportunity to support NASA’s mission with input from NASA employees, including astronauts, through virtual meetings. In the fall, the students traveled to Lewisville, Texas, to take part in a regional mentorship meeting and preliminary review. The final design review was set to take place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. COVID-19 prevented their travel; however, NASA HUNCH representatives Glenn Johnson and Mike Bennett presented project details to astronauts and NASA engineers on the team’s behalf.

While the contest is over, Johnson reminded participants that it might not mean the end of their work with NASA.

“NASA will mix and match different ideas into what they want and need,” he said in an email to project leads. “Some students may get called to help out with modifications. We never throw out our ideas because projects often get a second life and second look months or years later.”

Other Out-of-This-World Opportunities

HUNCH programs tap into student creativity in the areas of design and prototyping, software, hardware, sewn flight articles, video and media, and culinary. Meridian was one of 263 participating schools spanning 40 states. Students in the school’s Culinary Arts, Computer Aided Drafting, and Product Development and Machining programs also participated in the challenge.

Culinary Arts students Chloe Meyers, Miranda Whetstine and Silas Higdon were given a theme of ethnic entrees for the competition. They were tasked with creating dishes that would be appealing and deliver the recommended nutrition astronauts require in space. Recipes needed to take into consideration food processing procedures and packaging, as well as the dehydration and rehydration process. The group submitted a recipe for Hawaiian grilled shrimp kabobs with peppers, red onions and pineapple and earned a Top 10 placement.

They were also scheduled to travel to Houston to present their recipe to a panel of NASA food scientists, industry professionals and astronauts. COVID-19 prevented this experience from taking place in person.

In the fall, students in Meridian’s Product Development and Machining and Computer Aided Drafting programs will continue work on their design and fabrication of a pin to lock the shuttle’s handrails for next year’s HUNCH contest.

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