JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) – Most students graduate with resumes that include their GPA and standardized test scores. For a group of Northeast Arkansas students, though, “worked with NASA” will surely pop off the page.
Students in the Engineering, Design, and Production Lab at the Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical Center in Jonesboro have a unique opportunity. They are working hand-in-hand with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to refurbish a telescope flown on two shuttle missions before it finds its final resting place in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Landon Lucena is one such student and said he still has trouble wrapping his head around how big of a deal the project really is.
“At times I’m like, I work with NASA. That’s just so cool. I guess it’s a little bit of a bragging right. It’s just a cool experience, I’ve got to say that,” Lucena said.
The telescope the students are working on has a very unique backstory. Originally, it was set to fly four times as part of the shuttle program. However, it ended up only flying twice. Once the space shuttle program was discontinued, the telescope ended up in a warehouse.
Years later, an unknown party sold it for scrap.
The original engineers who built the telescope caught wind of the sale, and decided to pool their money to purchase it. Despite the shuttle costing $150 million to build, they purchased it for just $1,500. Their goal was to refurbish it and send it to the Smithsonian for permanent preservation.
However, they ran into a problem.
The telescope was missing 16 parts. To rebuild those parts, NASA reached out to the NEACTC for help.
Lucena and his classmates then modeled the pieces and 3D printed them. Once NASA approved the models, they moved toward building the real thing.
Dan West, the program’s instructor, said he’s merely overseeing the project while his students do the real work. He said the project is great in the moment, but it will also have a lasting impact on his students.
“When you’re young, a lot of times you don’t understand the gravity of what you’re doing. It looks really good on a resume or an entrance exam,” West said. “‘Hey, I know I’m 18 but I built parts for NASA.’ Who can say that?”
He didn’t build his first aerospace part until he was 33-years old. Now his students are doing the same as early as 10th grade.
Lucena thanks the NEACTC for providing the opportunity to work towards his future career in the engineering field before receiving his high school diploma. He said the classroom setting wasn’t for him, but now he’s found a program that caters to his skills and learning style.
He also urged other students to explore different opportunities while they still can.
“I wish more people would know about it. It’s okay to be in these classes. To me, they’re a lot better than what the high school can deliver,” Lucena said. “Here at the NEACTC, it’s really good. It’s really fun. And we get to use technology that’s…it’s insane.”
The NEACTC is helping students build toward their futures, one space telescope piece at a time.
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