The West Virginia Robotic Technology Center’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Outreach Program continued its tour of WV with stops at Greenbrier East and Williamstown high schools. The tour aims to inform students on the importance of STEM disciplines and the growth of WV to host technical careers.
At Greenbrier East High School, Dr. Thomas Evans joined nearly 100 students from 8th – 12th grades in the school’s assembly hall to discuss WVRTC’s support of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA Headquarters Early Stage Innovations Office. Dr. Evans highlighted the importance of the Asteroid Redirect and Satellite Servicing missions for space exploration, and how students can develop STEM knowledge to one day work on exciting programs like these in the Mountain State.
The next stop was Williamstown High School near Parkersburg, W.Va. Roughly 50 students from 7th – 12th grades gathered to hear Dr. Evans’ presentation.
Evans explained to the students that the Hubble Telescope and International Space Station are just hundreds of miles from Earth; however some satellites orbit the Earth 26,000 miles away. The common approach is to build and launch satellites with a limited lifetime. However, advancing robotic capabilities to work precise autonomous and teleoperated procedures can enable life-extension for existing and future satellites.
“It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to build a satellite, and then hundreds of millions more to send it into space,” Evans explained.
Comparing a robotic satellite servicing mission to refueling your car with gas, Evans drew the interest of the students.
“We’re basically trying to make a gas station in space,” he said.
Evans then introduced the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and the technical tasks the WVRTC is performing to support the robotics operations.
“The Asteroid Redirect Mission’s end goal is to eventually place a human on Mars. WVRTC is testing tools that can grab asteroid boulders and contain them for astronauts to explore on a second mission which will dock with the asteroid capture vehicle.”
The idea is for astronauts, scientists, engineers and robots to all work together to make this possible.
Evans’ presentation illustrated intriguing images of the simulation facility in Fairmont, W.Va. and emphasized how years of testing in labs and simulated environments can prepare NASA to perform complex operations in space.
“We want to test as much as possible in a ground setting before the technology is ready to head to space,” Evans explained. He closed the presentation with encouraging remarks for students to stay motivated and use their time in school to prepare themselves for college and future careers.