Wednesday, February 13, 2013

UAH Space Hardware Conference

Last night, I came back from the "Building and Sustaining Space Hardware Organizations" conference in Alabama. It was sponsored by NASA's Alabama Space Grant Consortium and the University of Alabama Huntsville Space Hardware Club. I had the time of my life at this conference. I was one of four students from Florida chosen to go.

Before I get into details of the conference, I have to say I really had the most amazing time in Huntsville. I love the city and the university. I met some of the coolest people there; I hated leaving! Everyone in the Space Hardware Club and the visiting universities were so nice and helpful and fun. I really hope to visit UAH and maybe collaborate with the Space Hardware Club in the future. I don't want to lose touch with the awesome friends I made there.

I flew into Huntsville Thursday morning, where I was picked up by two students of UAH's Space Hardware Club. We went to the hotel, where I met my roommate for the next few days, Mahreen. We went to campus to wait for the kickoff tours to start. Mahreen and I explored the UAH campus some during that time. I also met several other conference attendees during that time. 

The conference started by touring areas of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. We went to the International Space Station Payloads Operations Center, where they communicate with the astronauts aboard the space station and observe the experiments being conducted. Below are some pictures, including some experimentation observed in real time.

After that, we saw some of the electric and nuclear propulsion systems that Marshall is developing. This was one of the coolest parts of the tour, but I can't post pictures due to ITAR reasons. 

Finally, we toured some historic parts of Marshall, specifically, the test stands. We saw the Historic Dynamic Test Stand 4550, Static Test Stand 4670, the Historic Redstone Missile Test Stand, as well as a few others.

Historic Dynamic Test Stand 4550 
Static Test Stand 4670 (The cement goes 80' down into the bedrock)

Historic Redstone Test Site
We went back to the UAH campus and toured some of the Space Hardware Club's facilities. We saw their INCREDIBLE machine shop, and their ground station for their satellites. The machine shop was huge and had a 3D printer, a composites area, as well as CNC machines and manual machinery. 

The next day the actual conference-y part started. We had the honor of hearing from Marshall Space Flight Center's center director, Patrick Scheuermann. He was very inspirational. We also heard from Ray Perkins of Teledyne Brown Engineering and Bill Brown of the High Altitude Research Corporation. Bill Brown is the leading expert in balloonsats (balloon satellites). He and I got to talking because of my interest in balloonsats; he is an incredible guy and I am so fortunate to have made his acquaintance! We broke out into focus groups twice during the conference; I attended the satellite and rocketry sessions. I learned a ton from both sessions. 

Bill Brown with his balloonsat payload

When the conference ended, we went to dinner, where I got to talk to more students. Afterwards, some of the students, Mahreen, and I went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. We took pictures with the Saturn V they have outside; it is HUGE! It can be seen from every area of the city. We then went back to campus to go salsa dancing. It was soooo much fun. I danced with a bunch of people there, and ran into a friend I made two summers ago while interning at Kennedy Space Center! It was so random and awesome running into him there. 

We then got the "grand tour" of campus, and went to Denny's for a midnight snack. 

The last day, before flying off, the Space Hardware Club launched a balloonsat. It was really amazing, I even got to help with the launch. I'm going to write about this in a separate post!

Overall, it was such an incredible conference. :) A special thanks goes to the Florida Space Grant Consortium for sponsoring my trip!

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  1. Oh my God, this is literally the experience of a lifetime! I'm so proud you were one of four from Florida to be a part of this, Chelsea! and thank you for sharing the pictures with us;-)

    1. Thank you! It was my pleasure! If you're into space stuff, I should have some other posts were I share about other experiences I've had. :)