CONWAY — In the summer of 2013, Andy Shaw, machine tool/metals technology teacher at the Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center at Kennett High School, got an odd email — from NASA.
“I got an email that June asking, ‘Would you like to give your students an opportunity to build parts for NASA?’” Shaw said. “I didn’t know if it was a joke or not. I responded, and it was real.”
Shaw was contacted by Stacy Hale from HUNCH (High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware), an instructional partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and high schools.
“I sent out emails to 33 schools across the country in June, and do you know how many responded?” Hale asked. “Just 13. I never heard back from the other 20; they probably thought it was a prank.”
Hale, who was at Kennett High on Tuesday to assign the Eagles their seventh mission of designing flight-ready hardware to go to the International Space Station, selected Kennett based on its outstanding reputation for producing top-flight machinist students.
“I looked at the results in New Hampshire Skills USA (in the spring of 2012),” Hale said. “I find a student’s name and the school name and their level in the state, and I kept seeing Kennett.”
“It was the start of a beautiful relationship, you could say an out-of-this-world relationship,” Shaw said Tuesday in his classroom. “I’m sure glad I answered Stacy’s email. Being involved with HUNCH has been life-changing for our students and our school.”
The idea of HUNCH started in the summer of 2003 when Hale, from Johnson Space Center, thought that maybe high school students could build cost-effective hardware needed to help train International Space Station astronauts.
“The partnership involves students fabricating real-world products for NASA as they apply their science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills as well as learning to work in teams and think creatively,” its website states.
“While students are building hardware, soft goods, prototypes or experiments for NASA, they are also building their interest as researchers, as well as their self-confidence. HUNCH is a win-win innovative solution for inspiring the next generation of scientists while providing cost-effective hardware and soft goods for NASA.”
Tuesday, Hale told Shaw’s advanced manufacturing Eagles — Parker Coleman, Will Eaton, Evan Eldridge, Gaven Ferry-Eldridge, Gaven Gagne, Connor Glavin, Asa Grace, Zachary Grzesik, Andrew Hurd, Dom Jones, Gabe Mohla, Reilly Murphy, Kyle Perry, Sean Regnier and Braden Santuccio — that they did such a great job last year he wanted them to build the same hardware again.
“How many of you made butterflies (a component for lockers) last year? We’re looking for more butterflies, both the 01 and 02 models. I believe the year before that y’all made the bases. We’re looking for those again,” Hale said.
Last year, students from Shaw’s Machine Tool 1 and Advanced Machine Tool classes passed an exam and became NASA-certified to handle and work on life-critical hardware for the International Space Station. They will get re-certified again this fall.
“Then we will start building stuff,” Shaw said. “One thing that I’ve prided this school on is we have consistently built parts that have passed inspection. Part of that has been your ability to identify how to obtain the measurement and how to make sure that it’s correct.”
Hale paid Shaw and his students the highest compliment.
“In today’s world in HUNCH, when NASA quality comes out to inspect our property before we deliver it, which is y’all’s parts, now it’s a formality. Those people when they come out to see us, they accept your work. Do you know how unusual that is? As an inspector, how much confidence you have to have in an organization to do that? That’s the reputation that y’all have created.”
George Abbott, owner of Abbott Machine Co. in Center Conway, and Rod Henry of Redstone have been staunch supporters of Shaw and the manufacturing program. They’ve worked with the students over the years, but their problem-solving skills last year has led to NASA to contract with them.
“It’s good to have resources, right,” Shaw said.
Abbott and Henry, along with retired high school teacher Stephen Arsenault of Wolfeboro, stepped in to sub for Shaw when he was suspended for several months after he was charged by Conway police with hosting a drinking party with underage guests at his home.
In February, Virginia Schrader director of the MWV Career and Technical Center, said Henry and Abbott have been regulars in the machine tool shop.
“George Abbott and Rod Henry are great guys and are contributing a tremendous amount of time and expertise,” Schrader said. “That is why it pays to have a great advisory board.”
Abbott and Henry were able to design a jig for the butterfly that allowed the students to make both left- and right-handed handles to go on the lockers.
Hale, who said the Eagles made an intravehicular handle that enables crew members to maneuver throughout the space station, was so impressed by their efforts that he wants to make a movie about the process for NASA.
“Fifty years of experience helps,” said Henry modestly, adding: “We did it manually; we did it old school.”
Old school or not, Hale told him, “That is truly an amazing work of art.”