NASA Taps Montana High Schoolers For Space Station Solutions

Sep 11, 2015

Astronauts are looking for help in solving some of the challenges of living and working on the International Space Station, and they're turning to Montana high school students to help find solutions.

Among the challenges facing the astronauts are things we take for granted on earth, like fresh food.
"The astronauts are not real pleased with this food," says Florence Gold, as she holds up a fist-sized, vacuumed package of freeze dried sweet and sour chicken.

And the students at Laurel High School sort through other vacuum packs of freeze dried coffee, cheerios and milk, and canned chicken.

"Boy, I think of all of the things that would probably make the astronauts the happiest is improving the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables," Gold says.

The challenge: there are no refrigerators in the International Space Station (ISS) for food.

Other problems the astronauts are looking to students to solve, new ways to package facial tissues or tools or to clean their clothes.

Gold is with NASA’s HUNCH program. It teams with students from across the country to design and fabricate hardware and soft-goods for astronauts on the ISS.

Andy Wildenberg teaches computer science at Rocky Mountain College and helps with the HUNCH program. He says there’s a reason why NASA is looking to high school students to solve problems.
"You hear people talk about ‘think outside the box’ and I really get sick of that term because it’s used everywhere. But it really does mean when you have somebody coming at a problem fresh, without being told the ‘right way’ to solve the problem."

Wildenberg says students bring radically new and different solutions to the discussion.

And Gold adds students in the HUNCH program are official contractors for NASA’s Research Integration Office and the astronauts value them for their creativity.

"You cannot be afraid of going outside your comfort zone and taking risk. In actuality that’s the number one thing that colleges are looking for students to do. They want students who are willing to go outside their comfort zone, take risks, and to be resilient."

She became involved when she taught at Laurel High School. Now retired, Gold returned yesterday to launch Laurel’s 11th year of participation in the program. She now travels the country working with high schools and students in the HUNCH program.

This year, the Billings Career Center joins HUNCH to fabricate experimental flight hardware. Other Montana participants are Billings Central Catholic High School and Rocky Mountain College. In Wyoming, Campbell County High School, Gillette East High School, and Jackson Hole.