Lending a hand: CATA students build handrails for NASA project

·2 min read

May 15—Students in the Cullman Area Technology Academy's precision machine program will soon have their names in the stars after they signed a piece of equipment that will be used by astronauts on the International Space Station.

Students in the program have worked on a few projects for NASA in recent years as part of the HUNCH (High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) program.

HUNCH lets high school students get hands-on experience with NASA through fields like machining, welding, computer design, sewing or cooking, and is in place in more than 150 schools around the country.

CATA students have worked to build parts for the storage lockers in the past, and the school's most recent project for NASA was building the handle for handrails that are similar to the ones used in space, said HUNCH Hardware Support Specialist Bill Gibson.

The handrails that CATA students built will be used in space station mockups and by astronauts who are training to go to the International Space Station or training for one of the deep space habitats that are currently being designed for the moon or Mars, he said.

In space, astronauts use the rails to propel themselves through the space station and use them to hold on to the wall so they aren't floating around too much while they are working, he said.

Gibson said the handrails that actually go to space have a more complicated design and are much more expensive to build, so there is a high demand among NASA's engineers for the mockup rails that HUNCH students have been building.

While they won't actually be going into space, the rails that CATA students worked on still have very exact specifications that they have to meet to make sure their dimensions are the same as the rails that are being used in the space station, he said.

The part that students were able to write on Thursday was a panel from a storage locker that will be used by astronauts on the space station, and while the piece of equipment that students signed wasn't actually built at CATA, it will serve as a way for all of the students who have worked in the HUNCH program to get their names in space, Gibson said.

"That's a very visible part that NASA has agreed to let us sign as a special program to show our appreciation for the people who make stuff for us, regardless of what they make," he said.