Lone Star College-CyFair student and future aerospace engineer Elijah Salandanan had an amazing experience participating in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) project that concluded with a trip to the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
“This project is helping get me into the field I want to be in,” said Salandanan. “Working for NASA as a designer, scientist or engineer would be a dream job.”
The NCAS five-week scholars program and four-day, on-site space center event offers students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering.
Salandanan’s five weeks of class included online quizzes, webinars and a research paper. One of three topics he addressed was In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) – “simply put, taking readily available resources in any environment and being able to use them in some valuable way.” In addition to the ISRU topic, Salandanan covered comparisons between Solar Electric Propulsion versus traditional chemical propulsion, as well as NASA’s “capability-driven approach,” which is a step-by-step plan to gain necessary skills to journey to Mars.
During the four days at NASA, students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team was responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.
“(The time at the Stennis Space Center) was an absolutely astonishing experience. Our team competed in two challenges that involved retrieving specific items from a test field meant to replicate a flat Martian surface, and we won the main competition,” said Salandandan, who served as the Design Research Engineer for his company team Red Rock Industries. “We were able to see a full rocket test being fired out of the B-2 test stand. They tested the RS-68 engine used for Ares V cargo ships.”
Students also received a private Stennis Space Center tour with NASA engineers and scientists, some of whom shared how they became NASA employees. Salandanan said during the five-week summer session he also gained insight through webinars on projects NASA scientists were working on, NASA history, modern technology, and the three steps to going to Mars: Earth Reliance, Proving Ground and Earth Independence.
With Salandanan’s many interests, his academic studies have included architecture, business and literature. However, it was at LSC-CyFair – and his love for math and graphic design - that he decided to focus on mechanical engineering with an ultimate goal of working at NASA.
His resume now has first-hand NASA-related experience on it, not only as one of 304 community college students from across the U.S. to be part of NCAS, but with LSC-CyFair’s awarding-winning Team CERO (an acronym name - Cutting, Extraction, and Retention Operations - that specifically related to their research topic of designing a zip tie cutter for space missions.)
This fall, Salandanan was a member of LSC-CyFair’s team at the Texas Space Grant Consortium’s Annual Design Challenge. Competing against senior teams at four-year universities such as UT, A&M and UNT, LSC-CyFair placed in multiple categories, including winning first for best poster and winning third overall for top design team.
In addition to graduating in 2018 with his LSC-CyFair associate degree, Salandanan plans to complete certificates in AutoCAD and Solidworks before transferring to the Aerospace Engineering (ASE) Undergraduate Program at the University of Texas at Austin.
Registration for LSC-CyFair’s spring semester are under way. For information, go to LoneStar.edu/registration.