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Bugs in space?: Students in Billings pitch problem solving to NASA

Posted at 8:32 AM, Mar 08, 2023

BILLINGS - Students from around Montana and Wyoming gathered in Billings for perhaps the ultimate science project.

Their mission: to get NASA's attention and offer ideas to be used in future space missions.

It's a class, a competition, and a potential chance to work for NASA.

High school students may get that opportunity through High school students Uniting with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH).

The students came from Bozeman Gallatin High School, Bozeman High School, Wyoming Indian High School, Jackson Hole High School, and the Billings Career Center, which includes students from Senior, West, and Skyview.

Some students answered the question of insects in outer space.

"We can send insects to space and test how they react to different environments," said Douglas Pohlman, a Career Center student. "So it's a very high-stress environment in space and insects are a very good source of protein."

The insect Nanolab was one of nearly 30 projects displayed during NASA HUNCH Design and Prototyping Critical Design Reviews at the Billings Career Center on Tuesday.

The students are exploring using insects as food for astronauts on missions.

"Space is unpredictable," said Kameron Ball, a Career Center student working with Pohlman. "Space is chaotic. It's exceptionally hard. We think we've done a pretty good job, all things considered."

Another student also looked at nutrition and found that with no gravity, water stays around astronauts' faces, and food has to be even more flavorful.

"You can't taste as well as you these recipes have to be super aromatic with like, lots of curry, lots of herbs, like lots of spices, for just some to be able to taste anything," said Genevieve Pannell, a Bozeman High student.

"The results are absolutely amazing here. Their projects are all projects that NASA actually needs," said Florence Gold, a NASA HUNCH regional manager for west regional and northeast regional schools

Gold started HUNCH at Laurel High School in 2005 and eventually became a NASA employee overseeing student projects like these across the country.

"I say, oh my goodness, that's really cool because these high school kids think outside the box," Gold said.

Some of those ideas will be selected by Gold and others at Johnson Space Center and may eventually make their way to space.

Some kids in the program have gone on to work for NASA, and others are reviewing the projects.

"Actually have an experience and do something that like not other really any high schooler would be able to do on a daily basis and just winning a trip, it was it was absolutely an amazing experience," said Barb McGregor, a HUNCH reviewer.

McGregor graduated last year from the Career Center and Billings West High School and now attends Montana State University in Bozeman.

The current high school students have already had a great experience.

"It's really amazing to think that I'm only 16 going on 17 and I'm doing work for NASA that they're going to hopefully implement into their future," said Pohlman.

"This is one of the coolest opportunities I've ever gotten," Ball said. "There's really nothing like it."