University of Texas student spends summer working for NASA
Why I pounded hardware with a hammer on my summer vacation at NASAs Marshall Center
Hitting technical instruments with a hammer might not seem like productive, high-tech activity, but at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., it has its place in the work of the nations space program. At least it does for Rodney Harris, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Texas in San Antonio, who is working at the NASA center this summer.
The unique opportunity for Harris and 48 other students from around the country is part of NASAs 10-week Equal Opportunity Summer Scholars Internship Program. The experience pairs minority and disabled college students with NASA researchers and engineers. Students perform research and experiments, then present their findings to the Marshall employees overseeing their research.
"It might seem odd to pound hardware with a hammer," said Harris, a San Antonio native. "But the mechanical shock method is one way to determine how much punishment an instrument can handle. NASA has to know how much shock and vibration an instrument will see in flight before it can be turned loose in space.
"We also explode material to shock an instrument. This pyrotechnic shock is the method preferred by most engineers," said Harris.
"This project is fun and fascinating. I really appreciate NASA making internships available to students like me."
Harris is not the only summer scholar at the Marshall Center this year.
Star Colton, a biology major studying genetics at the University of Texas in San Antonio, is helping Dr. Joe Ritter of Marshalls Space Optics Manufacturing Technology Center with tests on a new atomic force microscope a device that can "see" individual atoms. "I love lab work, so this internship is very exciting for me," said Colton, a Shertz, Texas, native. "And I like the fact that Im one of the first to use a microscope that may someday be used to help advance NASAs biological and materials science research on the International Space Station."
Felipe Salinas, whos double-majoring in physics and chemistry at the University of Texas in San Antonio, also has a Space Station project. "Im working with engineers who are building a chamber to test ultraviolet radiation and atomic oxygen effects on surface contamination that could affect the solar panels on the Space Station," said Salinas, who is from San Antonio. "This kind of work inspires me to enter a research field after I finish graduate school."
Erick Ordonez, of New Mexico Highlands University, is assisting in writing a strategic plan about cryogenic fuel tanks for future reusable launch vehicles.
"Even though Im a chemical engineering major, this summers internship is exposing me to mechanical engineering. Next summer, I hope to have an internship in electrical engineering," said Ordonez, who is from Madison, Ala. "My objective is to understand all aspects of engineering and be better prepared for my career. This internship is helping me meet that objective."
Chris Rasco, a computer science major from the University of Texas in San Antonio, is involved in Web site construction for a Marshall department that performs tests on Space Shuttle main engines. "I really like the independence Marshall has given me to work on this project," said Rasco, also from San Antonio.
These students are participating through the Undergraduate Scholar Awards for Research (USAR) program offered at the University of Texas at San Antonio and New Mexico Highlands University.
The Summer Scholars Internship Program is sponsored by Marshalls Equal Opportunity Office and open to students who have a 3.0 or better grade point average as well as a minimum score of 1,200 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Other criteria are determined by a students university.