- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Austin High School student Ryan Anthony cringed when the blueprints from NASA arrived. So did teacher Bill Gibson and classmate Brady Dial.

“As soon as I looked at what they wanted, I knew it was something we wouldn’t be able to quickly do,” Gibson said.

Austin students - through High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware - are designing and manufacturing training and flight-certified hardware for NASA astronauts.

NASA provides materials, equipment and mentoring, but students have to design and fabricate products for the International Space Station training center.

This year, Austin students were selected to design and assemble handrails, which are scattered throughout the space station and double as places where astronauts tie down cargo.

Gibson, who worked in the aerospace machining business before coming to Austin 35 years ago, said he knew it would be the students’ toughest challenge since getting involved with the program nearly seven years ago.

“We have to configure the part like it will appear on the space station,” he said. “I knew right away when we got the blueprints that this wouldn’t be simple.”

Gibson, Anthony and Dial spent a month this summer designing and milling parts until they got them to NASA specifications.

“The first three or four days we just brainstormed,” said Anthony, who has been in the machine tool technology class three years. “I thought it was cool making something for astronauts, but man, it was time consuming.”

The students made three prototypes before meeting NASA requirements.

Gibson said one of the most difficult challenges was figuring out how to make a T-bolt long enough to mount the handle to a plate.

Students had to make 208 of the bolts, which because of length couldn’t be purchased in a hardware store.

“Every single measurement has to fit or they will reject what we do,” Gibson said.

He said the equipment at Austin can mill so precisely that it can be difficult to see the details with the naked eye.

Two weeks ago, Anthony milled the final parts for the handrails, which were to be shipped to NASA near the end of last week.

Gibson said what Austin students and students across the nation are doing for the training center is important because it’s too expensive for NASA to construct a space station like the one in space.

“The parts are so expensive,” he said.

Anthony, who wants to be a firefighter, said he’s glad he got the experience because he also wants to work in a machine shop.

“The experience is going to be valuable,” he said.

Johnson Space Center started the program in 2003 as a way to give high schools students the opportunity for hands-on experience through applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

“This is good experience for students because they see the product from beginning to end,” Gibson said.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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