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NASA and Ulster BOCES Develop HUNCH Program


The Ulster BOCES has a new program that’s out of this world. Literally. In October, it announced a new partnership with NASA to build cargo containers that will carry items up to the International Space Station. 

It’s part of NASA’s HUNCH program, which stands (rather clunkily) for “High School Students United With NASA to Create Hardware.” Students in the Ulster BOCES Career and Technical Center will put their computer-assisted design and manufacturing skills to use in a hands-on, project-based assignment. 

NASA provides the school with the materials, equipment, blueprints, and specifications needed to build the containers, along with NASA mentoring to supplement the leadership of BOCES Computer Design/Manufacturing and Robotics instructor Mark Harris, who put together the partnership. 

HUNCH is working with high school students around the country on various projects, Harris says, but wasn’t looking for another school in the Northeast when he learned about the program. Nevertheless, he sent them pictures of his lab, the school’s background, and his resume — which already included government work — “to show them I understand the process,” he says. NASA accepted, making them one of only four schools in New York State in the program. 

“This is a great way to do something for a real company,” Harris says. “It’s a great experience with a real deadline.” They need to meet very precise specs, and are working with real astronauts. “There’s a bit of pressure on them, and that’s not a bad thing,” he says.

Harris offered the challenge to all 34 of his students, and eight signed on. The deadline is in early May, by which time the students will have to build the sections that will make up seven complete lockers. “That’s kind of ambitious,” he says. “But why not?”

In May the students and their families will travel to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Maryland, to show their work. “That will be a nice way for them to get recognition,” he says. “It will be something to put on their resume, which will be nice too.” 

Ulster BOCES is no stranger to interesting projects; the students won numerous awards for a solar car they built and raced from Texas to California, and are currently building an electric car to race in Texas. But going into space, Harris admits, “is one of the cooler things we have done. People still think NASA is cool.”