COLUMBIA, Missouri (KOMU) — Next Wednesday, Hickman High School students Gabe Palmer, Max Strode and Augustus Lookingbill will travel to Houston, Texas, to present their designs after being named finalists for a national design challenge.

“I’m really excited for the students to get to set up their display in Rocket Park next to the Saturn-5 Rocket and for engineers and astronauts to walk by,” Mike Merz, Hickman’s Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association (CASA) program instructor, said. “I just think this is a great program that NASA has sponsored and I am so excited my students get to be part of it.”

In February, NASA representatives Nancy Hall and Cody Farinacci came to Hickman to judge the student projects and talk about NASA and their technologies.

“We were in direct contact with NASA before they came here,” Strode said. “We were doing video calls with them monthly since the start of the school year, so we’ve had to make all kinds of adjustments with our project.”

The group’s project is a dice roll designed for a limited gravity environment. The dice were designed to have a hollow inside with the outsides using iron shavings for magnesium. All of the designs were created using classroom 3D printing.

“Something that I really appreciate about CASA is that we can pretty much do whatever we need to do with the equipment given,” Palmer said. “Mr. Merz doesn’t really give assignments, just weekly milestones to show our progress, and we can spend our class periods working at it.”

The group said they have been working on this design since the start of the school year, with continuous remodels and over 30 3D print designs.

“My favorite part has been just the trial and error,” Strode said. “I love just making stuff work. We’ve gone through so many different ideas, so many phases of design, so many problems and solutions, really just overcoming all those challenges has been really satisfying.”

A video was part of the group’s initial presentation to NASA’s representatives, led by Lookingbill.

“I have a great love for film,” Lookingbill said. “I’ve always kind of dreamed of being a director, and so to get to direct this video, write it and show it to astronauts is the peak of my high school days.”

Although the group was chosen as a finalist, they don’t have a timetable of when their design may get chosen to be used at the International Space Station. Merz mentioned that it could take years before the dice are used in action.

“It would be incredible if my students’ design ended up in space at some point,” Merz said. “It’s incredible to watch them go through the process, but to hope that someday we’ll actually get to see it in space is mind blowing.”

Even with the success of this year’s design, the students are already looking ahead to 2024’s design challenge.

“I’m already starting to think about next year is the thing,” Strode said. “As soon as we’re back from Houston, I’m already just mind racing. My goal is, let’s keep this ball rolling and getting bigger and bigger.”

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