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Space aspirations

Students help NASA build Orion simulator for astronauts

Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07



A group of Aggie industrial engineering students will contribute to NASA’s Orion space exploration vehicle.

A group of industrial engineering seniors will cap their undergraduate careers by helping NASA send a spacecraft to asteroids and possibly Mars.

All seniors graduating with a major in industrial engineering are required to complete a comprehensive Capstone project involving industrial management. These five students landed the project of a lifetime, contributing to the Orion capsule project.

"This is a unique opportunity for the students," said Justin Yates, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering. "The project is basically building the lighting system for the mock-up of the capsule. The Orion is the next generation of U.S. space travel. It's a similar concept to Apollo."

The group consists of senior industrial engineering majors Chad Cooper, Jay Kapadia, Yaser Alabdulbaqu, Crish Poddar, and senior industrial engineering and applied mathematics double major Obinna Osuorji.

"We are going to design all the circuitry, and we are also going to have to do all the wiring," Osuorji said.

NASA provided specifications for the group to follow, but they also want the group to show personality in the project. These students have the liberty to incorporate their own ideas, as well.

"NASA pretty much has a list of specifications we have to follow, and then we will have our own little touch," Kapadia said.

Astronauts will use this mock-up to practice flight scenarios. It will be used to simulate rescues and take-offs, and familiarize the crew with their seats, switches and control board. Astronauts will train in this capsule for years until the official Orion is ready for flight.

"The astronauts need something to practice on, and it can't be the real system," Yates said. "The astronauts would use the mock-up to practice in a realistic physical environment. The job of this Capstone is to recreate as much as possible the physical environment — the same illumination, same capability — but they are supposed to do it at a significantly lower budget. Its purpose is to mimic the real world, not be a real world system."

Jeff Fox, Class of 1984, and Christie Sauers are the group's NASA advisers. Fox graduated with an industrial engineering degree, while Sauers studied aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech.

"This project could potentially be used for many, many years and currently will be used in flight-like scenarios," Sauers said. "It's been neat to see the students see a project from end to end, the way people at NASA do. It isn't just a student project you're working on, it's a true NASA project."

Texas A&M is not the only school contributing to the project. As part of the Students Shaping America's Next Spacecrafts initiative, students ranging from middle school- to university-level contribute to the Orion project.

The schools work together to finish the Orion project, and use previously completed projects to advance the design.

"The lighting control box with switches is being built by another school, Friendship High School in Lubbock, Texas," Fox said. "We have a lot of schools and universities working on a lot of different parts of the project."

This hands-on experience will serve not only as a standout point on the group members' résumé, but also as an experience to draw from in their future careers.

"Just the fact that it's NASA means it's going to be rewarding," Cooper said. "I mean, five years or 10 years from now we will be able to say we worked on a high-profile project like this."

This project is not just using industrial engineering. It is interconnected and multidisciplinary and uses lots of areas of knowledge, including industrial engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.

"This is where engineering is heading, this is where industrial engineering fits in, and this is a really big opportunity to showcase the connectedness of education," Fox said. "It's interdisciplinary and interconnected."


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