Pine Ridge High students help build parts for NASA that will launch into space

Teens assemble access panels

Pine Ridge High students help build parts for NASA that will launch into space
Pine Ridge High students help build parts for NASA that will launch into space

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – For 120 students enrolled in Pine Ridge High School’s Advanced Manufacturing Academy, Wednesday’s historical SpaceX launch will provide them with a sense of pride and joy.

For the past year, the students have been working with NASA’s HUNCH program, a nationwide program that partners with schools across the country to help with needs for NASA.

"My first reaction was like: I gotta be in that 'cause that looks really good on a job resume," Ashlynn Wise, an eleventh-grade student at Pine Ridge High school recalled when the Academy director announced their names could potentially be going on to something destined for outer space.

[Countdown to launch: Watch live views of SpaceX Falcon 9, Crew Dragon at Kennedy Space Center]

"Not a lot of people can say that even as adults," Wise said.

Pine Ridge High school's Advancement Manufacturing Academy prepares students with engineering and manufacturing skills and since partnering with HUNCH, they've been working on about 180 access panels for NASA.

“We started with access doors for the cargo suitcases, which are panels that allow the astronauts to interact with whatever is inside the suitcase,” James Maynard, the Manufacturing Academy director said.

The Academy, which was launched six years ago with help from Rep. David Santiago, prepares students with engineering and manufacturing skills.

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"When I actually graduate I'll have certifications in CNC, welding, and stuff like that. So, I can usually get a job straight out of high school," Wise said.

The lab provides them with actual machines used in factories, too.

"We want the opportunity for these students to either continue with their academic career or if they want to leave here tomorrow when they graduate they can go into the workplace to start using the same equipment," Santiago said.

Immerse yourself
Immerse yourself

With the upcoming SpaceX launch, some of the parts the students have been working on hands-on might be taking off with the two American astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

"There are cargo suitcases that have student-produced parts on them. I got notification from NASA that our parts are in rotation," Maynard said.

The students used a CNC or computer numerical control milling machine to put the final details on those panels.

“Anything that gets sent up to space has to be precise and partnering with this HUNCH program that is allowing parts to go up and be utilized for the space program is huge for these students,” Santiago said.

[RETURN TO SPACE: Subscribe to a weekly newsletter to receive the latest in space news directly to your inbox here | American spaceflight history: Space Shuttle establishes lasting human presence in space]

Wise explained how the panels were made.

“What we did was precisely drill the holes. We actually put the part in here clamped it in and then drilled the four holes,” he said.

The access panels will then be sent to NASA, where they will be coded and regulated if needed.

The Academy’s next step is to manufacture a different part of the cargo suitcases.

“Our next step is building pieces for the latching assemblies on the suitcases, which are smaller but much more complex,” Maynard said.

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