Arkansas students participate in NASA program

JONESBORO, Ark. — Not every high school student gets the chance to work with NASA.

However, not only do Bryon Koster and his classmates get that chance, the Jonesboro senior said a NASA representative told him he could even add it to his resume.

“This is amazing,” he said.

Koster and his classmates are in Rick Barker’s advanced manufacturing/computer integrated manufacturing program at the Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical Center. That program was recently approved to participate in NASA’s Design and Prototyping HUNCH program.

“The Design and Prototyping HUNCH Program is a way for students of all skill levels to develop innovative solutions to problems posed by life on the International Space Station,” according to nasahunch.com. “Many of the projects are items personally requested by the International Space Station Crew to help ease living conditions aboard the station, giving students the opportunity to really make an impact on the lives of astronauts. Other projects come from flight crew systems and operational groups at NASA that need more idea development.”

Past projects that were flown to the ISS include a redesigned galley table, a food pantry storage system, astronaut foot-pad, a can crusher and hygiene privacy curtain, the program’s website reported.

Koster considers it an awesome opportunity. It is a chance to learn more about the field, help people and work with NASA professionals with years of experience — an opportunity not many get, he said.

Barker and his students learned of the program while watching a series of training videos that mentioned it. Upon realizing they met the requirements, Barker said they sought to participate.

“The reason is exposure for students because we could be building parts for ISS and the National Space Station,” Barker said.

In Barker’s classroom, students learn basic machine tool knowledge and skills. Equipment they learn to use includes computerized numerical control programming, CNC plasma cutter, 3-D printer, LYNX robotic arms, vertical milling machines and engine lathes.

His program has partnerships with local manufacturing companies and an articulation agreement so students can further their education at a local community college. Koster said his family has worked in this field throughout his childhood so he has always been familiar with it.

That family connection, plus his hope to help others, means it’s a field he eventually hopes to work in after college.

“I know I will do stuff every day to help,” he said, “and I can get a really good job.”

A NASA representative recently visited the Jonesboro center to inspect Barker’s classroom. Afterwards, the center’s director, Eddie Crain, said the representative spoke highly of the students.

“This is the first school he has been in where students came up to him, spoke to him and shook his hand,” Crain said.

It is professionalism that Crain said Barker drills into all of his students and his work does not go unnoticed — the representative approved the center’s participation that day.

There are 22 students who will participate as CNC programmers and/or intro-machinists. However, the main group of students who will be assigned to the projects are second-year students with the other students lending a hand as needed.

The second-year students are Harrisburg senior Robbie Loyd, Jonesboro seniors Kennedy Brown, Gunner Russell and Jackson Clayton and Jonesboro juniors Nathan Swindle and Koster.

Barker has not received the first assignment, but he said students will receive a detail list and blueprint to use to get parts from a local company and then follow the blueprint’s specifications to complete the project.

“They partner up with the school and supply all the materials and tooling,” Barker said, “and we design and build parts for NASA. The parts will be on the shuttle or the ISS. I’m excited!”