Sunday, August 30, 2009

Engineering Student’s Work Assists NASA Shuttle Missions

Aug. 19, 2009
Michael Vandewalle has had a co-op at NASA for only a few months, but his project has already been used on two space shuttle missions.

NASA recognized Vandewalle, a Worthington, Ohio, resident and electrical and computer engineering major, for his work with the Co-op Special Achievement Award from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Every semester, a co-op mentor and a supervisor have an option to recommend a student they think is above and beyond. Vandewalle was picked for his project that involved designing a circuit that controls frequency noise interference in ground systems that transfer shuttle high-definition video data.

“Receiving the award showed his ability to take knowledge he learned at school and his ability to apply that knowledge,” said Vandewalle’s mentor, Frederick T. Shetz, Electronic Systems Test Laboratory Test Director at the Johnson Space Center. “He also demonstrated his ability to learn new things quickly.”

Vandewalle began working at NASA in January at a communication test lab supporting Shuttle, Space Station and Constellation missions. He had a working system by March for the shuttle’s STS-119 mission to the International Space Station, where it was successfully used during two events.

“Michael fit in from day one,” Shetz said. “Quite often students come into a work environment wanting to impress. Michael did that with a quiet confidence, listening before speaking.”

His system was in place during the May 11 launch of the shuttle’s STS-125 (Hubble Servicing Mission 4) for all crew highlight videos, crew news conferences, the first ever high-definition linkup with a U.S. Senate subcommittee in the Capitol Building, and the review of in-cabin IMAX footage for a film to be released in the spring of 2010.

“Everything is pretty awesome,” Vandewalle said. “Almost every day you see something that is just really crazy. For a week, I walked through mission control, and I even met Gene Kranz (legendary director of mission operations) once.”

This summer, Vandewalle has been turning his prototype into a finished design. The process included a printed circuit board design, mechanical design and the development of a user interface that allows engineers to make changes to the unit’s settings.

During winter quarter of 2010, he will be working at Johnson Space Center in the Mission Operations Directorate. The following summer, he will be in the Engineering Directorate to work on power systems for the Orion spacecraft. He will also return two additional quarters before he graduates in December of 2011.


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