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Hartselle seniors get chance to develop payload for NASA
By Lucy Berry
The Decatur Daily

Courtesy photo
Hartselle students Eli Bair, Michael Powell, Chris Brown and Jake Whitt work on their project.

HARTSELLE — Baseball player Colton Ord always envisioned becoming a professional athlete after college, but it was a senior-level engineering course that turned his dreams upside down.

Ord is one of seven Hartselle High School seniors developing a scientific payload for a NASA spacecraft designed by University of Alabama-Huntsville engineers. If selected, the group’s project will be used during a future NASA mission.

The advanced engineering class will compete with other north Alabama schools Dec. 10 at the annual InSPIRESS competition in Huntsville, where they will apply math and science skills and get a taste of real-world engineering.

Hartselle’s engineering course didn’t place in last year’s competition, but the group is hopeful it will succeed in this month’s contest after learning from past mistakes.

Ord, 18, plans to attend the University of South Alabama next year on a baseball scholarship, but he now considers mechanical engineering his passion.

“We’re real optimistic, but it’s been a long road,” Ord said. “We’ve put in the time and worked hard to do the best we can, so whatever happens, happens.”

Inspired by the computer game Angry Birds, the class calls itself ANGGRI BIRD, an acronym for Analyzing the Native Geology of Ganymede as a Result of Intrusion By an Impactor to Receive Data.

Last month, teacher Kimberly Pittman said the team conducted an ice experiment, which involved shooting pellets into ice sheets to observe the size and shape of the debris field. The group used ice because the surface of Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter and the largest moon in the solar system, is frozen.

Pittman, the chemistry teacher and swim coach, said the team has developed a poster, T-shirt, brochure, booth and digital presentation to accompany the scientific payload.

“I do think this is an extremely unique situation for them to be involved in, as far as the real-world application of things they’ve been studying for 13 years in school,” she said. “They get the feeling for how important communication skills are, because if you have engineering but can’t communicate with somebody, you’re not going to be successful.”

Pittman said a panel of judges from Marshall Space Flight Center will critique the group’s presentation, booth and term paper next month at UAHuntsville’s open house before selecting overall InSPIRESS winners.

Chris Brown, 17, serves as head of engineering for the group and plans to work in mechanical engineering at UAHuntsville following graduation.

“I’ve enjoyed looking at the different things engineers get to do,” he said. “It makes me use my head a lot more than I usually do.”

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