When students from five states participated in NASA’s Earth to Orbit
Engineering Design Spacecraft Structures Challenge, they tackled some of the
same issues NASA engineers face when designing spacecraft.

To enhance their experience, more than 25 middle school and high school
students and teachers will visit NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala., April 19-21 to see some of the space agency’s work
firsthand.

The NASA-sponsored program is aimed at letting students in their classrooms
experience some of the challenges faced by NASA engineers designing the next
generation of aerospace vehicles. It also helps students achieve national
goals for developing science, math and thinking skills.

Using educational materials provided by NASA, teachers decide the
appropriate time during the school year for students to tackle the program’s
hands-on activities. The challenge is targeted at students in grades 6-9 and
open to all schools.

For this year’s program, students were assigned to build a model spacecraft
and thrust structure using the lightest and most durable materials possible.
A thrust structure, which attaches the rocket engine to the spacecraft, must
be able to withstand a “launch to orbit” three times.

After determining the amount of force needed to launch their spacecraft
model, students planned, built and tested structure designs. They revised
their concepts several times, trying to maintain or increase the strength of
their structure while reducing its weight. The approach is similar to the
challenge faced by real rocket scientists since reducing a spacecraft’s
weight means it costs less to launch astronauts, science experiments and
hardware into space.

Under teacher supervision, students documented their designs with sketches
and written descriptions. The challenge culminated in the classroom with
each student team preparing a storyboard to describe the process and results
of their work.

“The program challenges the students to think like NASA engineers,” said
Alicia Beam, pre-college officer with Marshall’s Education Programs Office.
“They do the experiment in their classrooms and come here to compare notes
with our engineers.”

The students and teachers from schools in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas,
Missouri and California also will meet with Marshall Center Director Art
Stephenson. They will tour Marshall facilities and the U.S. Space & Rocket
Center, which houses the world’s largest museum of space artifacts.

Teachers wishing to participate or obtain more information about the Earth
to Orbit Engineering Design Challenges can go to the ETO Web site at:

eto.nasa.gov