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Creating Solutions: UT Tyler Student Research Shines Through NASA Partnership

November 9, 2012

Media Contact:  Hannah Buchanan
Public Affairs Specialist
Marketing and Communications
The University of Texas at Tyler
903.565.5769 or 903.539.7196 (cell)

Engineering students at The University of Texas at Tyler are setting their sights among the stars in research experiences with NASA.

UT Tyler began a partnership with NASA two years ago to help bring new development and student involvement to the space program. As a participating school in NASA’s Students Shaping America’s Next Spacecraft program, UT Tyler students are involved in assorted research and building aspects of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which will replace the space shuttle program in space exploration.

“These projects have been very exciting,” said Dr. Sara McCaslin, UT Tyler assistant professor of mechanical engineering and project coordinator. “The students involved have had an unprecedented opportunity to impact America’s future in space, and I am very proud to have been a part of their experience. Our students have gained real-world engineering experience that encompasses design, analysis, testing, assembly and manufacturing of products that must meet very strict regulations.” 

Both civil and mechanical engineering students, now all alumni, were involved with the design and manufacture of the support pallet and struts for the medium-fidelity mockup of Orion.

“Our students were tasked with designing the pallet to support four-crew seats and adjustable struts to suspend the pallet from the walls of the MPCV,” she said. “The final design can now be seen in the Orion MPCV medium-fidelity mockup at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Much to our pride, all of the required manufacturing for this project was done in house by Mr. James Mills, scientific instrument maker for the college.”

Lockheed Martin, which provided funding, nominated the regional SSANS team (which included UT Tyler, Fruitvale ISD, Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School and The Brook Hill School) for the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation’s Stellar Award.

Although the team did not win, NASA officials created replicas of the nomination plaque it received and presented those to UT Tyler and the other participating schools.

 “This is outstanding experience for our students, and to even be recognized for such an award nomination is very much an honor,” said Dr. James Nelson, UT Tyler College of Engineering and Computer Science dean.

UT Tyler mechanical engineering students are currently working on the seat design for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle as the second-year project in the program.

“Our current project is very challenging. The students have been tasked with the design and manufacture of four seatbacks for the medium-fidelity mockup of the Orion MPCV and with the redesign of the flight model of the seatbacks to improve its cost and manufacturability,” McCaslin said. “Adding to the complexity of the project, the student designs must also be fully adjustable for use by astronauts of varying heights and sizes. The redesign of the flight model involves more than just supporting the weight of someone sitting in the seatback, but must account for accelerations up to 20 times gravity.”

Senior Travis Rhea of Lindale is glad for the opportunity to collaborate with NASA on such a project.    

“I think it gives us some valuable insight on what it will be like when we graduate and have to solve real-world problems,” Rhea said.

With these and other future projects, UT Tyler student research is proudly placed among the stars, shaping space technology and discovery.

The students’ progress on the current project may be followed online at http://patriotorion.blogspot.com/. To view the first-year team’s project, visit http://uttnasaorion.blogspot.com/.

For more information, contact McCaslin, 903.566.7245 or smcaslin@uttyler.edu.

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of almost 7,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.
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