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NASA HUNCH Program Meets Need for Components, Machinists

Roy Bellard
By Roy Bellard Hardware Education Manager, NASA HUNCH
Roy Bellard

NASA HUNCH (High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware) was founded by Stacy Hale at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The HUNCH hardware program charges students with machining components for lockers on the International Space Station (ISS).

Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, serves as our flagship school, although parts are manufactured at high schools throughout the U.S. George Kessler is our project manager and controller of quality assurance. All components are made to exact standards and tolerances dictated by NASA. Weight and tolerance considerations are of the utmost importance. To ensure consistency and compliance, we require our high school partners to have adequate CNC machines and use one CAD/CAM software system, Mastercam.

HUNCH is helping to close the skills gap by providing students state-of-the-art training and learning environments through partnerships with commercial companies.

We originally partnered with Oklahoma State University (OSU), which helped us with equipment procurement and connecting with students. We worked together to generate excitement about the program and help students discover the many careers at NASA. OSU has been an advocate for NASA since 1968, using their mobile van to demonstrate space-age education on behalf of Johnson Space Center. Recently, we partnered with NanoRacks LLC (an XO Market company) and hope to connect with other commercial businesses.

NanoRacks has many innovative ideas for future space projects. The firm makes the Bishop Airlock, which was nested inside the SpaceX Dragon trunk launched in December 2020, and now rests on the ISS as the first commercial module. NanoRacks is just one of many companies innovating space exploration.

Space exploration technology is exploding and, with so many cool things on the horizon, backed and used by NASA, suppliers to the aerospace industry are seeing an uptick in demand for components and systems.

They also suffer from a shortage of skilled workers to make them.

According to an aerospace & defense industry outlook report Deloitte published this year, defense spending is expected to remain stable and space exploration is expected to grow.

Manufacturing has not slowed down.

Unfortunately, the influx of skilled programmers and machinists has.

The skills gap affects our suppliers here at NASA, including high-profile OEMs, such as Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Jacobs and Oceaneering.

I believe apprenticeships and training are crucial to meeting demand.

I watched apprenticeship programs disappear from companies and thought, “Where will people get their training?”

HUNCH is onto a great idea—by putting the training back into the schools and the companies, HUNCH is proving that students can learn and produce quality space hardware at the same time.

If more companies were to invest their money into programs like HUNCH, or even start their own, they would benefit. We envision companies partnering with HUNCH to develop subprograms to aid mom-and-pop businesses that lack access to machine shops similar to those of their larger corporate competitors. These companies can also sponsor summer apprenticeships, a similar investment to supporting engineering scholarships. The increased demand can be met by more skilled machinists working for more and better-equipped suppliers.

The outlook for the aerospace manufacturing industry is positive, with opportunities for growth for all companies involved in the technologies that help us take flight, whether it is to protect our nation or going to the moon. I see an immense need for skilled programmers and machinists who create the parts that help make these missions happen.

Our goal here at NASA is to get to the moon faster, to Mars faster. We want to put out more parts to get there, well, faster.

I invite all companies and high schools interested in participating in the HUNCH program to contact our team. Who wouldn’t want to work with NASA?

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