BW at NASA Houston

The innovative experience simulated aspects of astronaut training with activities like robotics rover design, rocketry and scuba diving.

BW students first in the nation to participate in new NASA space science experience

March 13, 2017

BW students took a walk in the footsteps of NASA astronauts over spring break, the first college students in the nation to pilot a new NASA educational program designed with the help of BW faculty. 

The students arrived at Space Center Houston, gateway to NASA Johnson Space Center, on Sunday, March 5, to participate in “Space Center U” with the generous support of alumni donors who are underwriting the extraordinary experience.

Robotics, Rocketry, Cryogenics, scuba diving

Ten BW STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors, along with two BW faculty members, spent five days in Texas immersed in hands-on, innovative, inspiring activities that simulated astronaut training and real world NASA experiences such as robotics rover design, cryogenic capsule testing, rocketry and Mars habitat design.

In addition, they worked with dive instructors to learn scuba diving techniques taught to astronauts to prepare for microgravity in space. "The underwater building challenge was really fun, and having the fastest time ever seen by the instructors was really cool," said physics major Garrett Witzke ’19.

The students also toured NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where dive training takes place for real, and watched as two astronauts suited up and were raised by a crane into the pool where a mock-up of the International Space Station was submerged.

Learning Laboratory for NASA

The program, which is designed to promote teamwork, problem solving, communication and engineering solutions to space science scenarios, culminated with a graduation ceremony and exclusive “Brunch with an Astronaut.”

Jim McCargar, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing worked with NASA to set the stage to elevate the curriculum of an existing week-long program for high school students to a more robust experience for college students.

“This program fits with our focus on experiential learning and may inspire some of these students to pursue careers related to space science,” said Dr. McCargar. “Our NASA Space Center U colleagues approached this BW experience as a ‘learning laboratory’ to explore what works best with college-age students.”

Dream Come True

Senior physics majors Bo Royer, III '17 and Callie Jakuszeit '17 served as student leaders for the trip. “We still cannot believe we had the chance to spend spring break at Space Center Houston. It was a dream come true," said Royer. 

Being immersed in the complexities of exercises like Mars rover construction really pushed physics major Lauren Kasper ’20 to think critically. "You really need to take everything into account when thinking about the work that your robot will be doing, such as the terrain, the spacing and height of obstacles, grip of the wheels, etc."

In addition to Jakuszeit, Kasper, Royer and Witzke, students who made the trip are computer science major Kyle Ray ’20; mathematics majors David Golembiowski ’19, Helen Nguyen ’18 and Marissa Samsel ‘19; and physics majors Justin Malavé ’17 and Kyle Pellegrin ’17. Computer science professor Ken Atchinson, and physics lecturer and retired NASA aerospace engineer Paul Penko, Ph.D., accompanied the students to Houston. 

Fueled by Alumni Vision and Generosity

BW Space U students and lead donorsThe incredible, ongoing opportunity for BW students will be known on campus as the Reep-Clark Space Experience in honor of Dr. Michael Reep ’93 and Wyatt Clark, whose leadership gifts, combined with the support of other alumni and faculty, launched the program for the BW students this year and set a foundation for the future. 

BW graduate Susan Bixler, working with the Center for Innovation & Growth, set the idea in motion, and the can-do collaborative of BW alumni, faculty and staff brought the opportunity to life.

Students will report back to the BW community on their experience during BW’s expanded 2017 Ovation celebration in April.

  • BW at NASA Houston