UH students' invention selected for NASA launch

UH students' invention selected for NASA launch

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

An aluminum case holds an interconnection of wires, sensors and receptors, and the hopes of 16 UH community college students.

"We're ready for launch," Windward student Cale Mechler said.

Mechler and his fellow students were part of Project Imua. They collaborated on building an ultraviolet spectrometer. NASA will put the payload on a rocket and send it 100 miles into space. The device will measure the intensity of the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

"It's ultraviolet light before the atmosphere disperses all the light. This has a lot of implications for weather, ozone depletion possibly," Windward student Kalanikapu Copp said.

The UH students are from Honolulu, Kapiolani, Windward and Kauai community colleges.

"Kapiolani's role was the electrical aspect of it, which is the electrical board, the circuit board that all the electrical components will be soldered onto," Kapiolani student Kala'i Garcia said.

For the most part the teams worked independently.

"It's just being thrown so far out of your comfort zone into this awesome pool of learning new skills and learning how to apply them, learning how to communicate with so many other people. It's amazing," Honolulu Community College student Debora Pei said.

"There were some obstacles that we had to get around of data being transferred through all the different parts that were coming from different schools," Mechler said.

The project took a year. Project Imua is funded by a two-year $500,000 NASA grant.  So in a way, the students were working for NASA.

"We have some students interested in mechanical engineering, some in computer engineering. Hopefully, some of them will move on to work with NASA or maybe as a NASA sub-contractor." said Prof. Joseph Ciotti, who helped manage the project.

On Thursday, the spectrometer cleared an important stress test. A vibrating table simulated how the rocket will shake when it hurtles into space from a NASA site in Virginia.

"It managed to spin and it withstood that spin test," Copp said.

The UH device is the only community college payload NASA selected for the mission. Six other payloads that will be on board were built by mainland universities.

"I think we have a great community college system right here. It's exciting for people who are interested in STEM education," Ciotti said.

"We are definitely still in there with the science programs, the engineering programs. Hawaii definitely has the brilliant minds that can add a lot to the whole group data," Mechler said.

If everything's a go, the ultraviolet spectrometer will be sent into outer space on August 11.

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