Shoot for the moon

Tucked into the furthest corner of the basement of the Science Engineering Research Building are a lot of computers, 10 guys and one goal that’s out of this world, literally.

“If we want to go farther than the moon, we got to do this,” said Landon Hillyard, a sophomore in mechanical engineering and a member of the Get Away Special club.

The Get Away Special Club, or GAS, was a NASA program designed to let anybody buy space for experiments on space shuttles. It was introduced to USU more than 30 years ago. When the program was announced in 1976, Gil Moore, a former USU professor, personally funded Utah State to send a project into space.

“The space shuttle was new, and they were going to let experiments go up into space,” said Rob Barnett, GAS’s electrical engineering team leader. “(Gil) wrote a check and said ‘I want to buy space for USU.”‘

Since then, GAS has been recognized as a forerunner in space experiments for universities across the country. Barnett said USU has sent more experiments into space than any other school in the nation.

“It gets the school’s name out there. It gets students here,” said Justin Koeln, a senior in mechanical and aerospace engineering and the team tech lead. “We come here because it’s an unique position to do research.

Koeln said at other universities, undergraduates may never have a chance to do applied research like GAS is doing. He said at many schools people have to do research under professors and may not get to do much beside clean labs until their junior or senior years.

“We’re the complete opposite. We’re self-driven and self-educated,” he said. “What you don’t know, you learn.”

Hillyard said, “They’re not doing research that will change the world,” he said. “It gives Utah State swag.”

Iggy Matheson, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, applied to many schools before choosing USU for its research program.

“I went a little crazy in high school in the applications process,” he said. “I had a fixation on what school would help me do research best.”

GAS has been working on a project called FUNBOE 2.0, a new and improved version of the micro-gravity boiling experiment that traveled to a NASA base in Houston last year.

The experiment, a test to study boiling water and heat transfer in a simulated space environment, took place on a state of the art plane.

“It goes up and down at a 45-degree angle, each period lasting about 30 seconds,” Koeln said “Boiling water is a good way to way to transfer heat on earth. We wondered how would it work transferring in space.”

Ryan Martineau, a sophomore in mechanical and aerospace engineering said by studying the transfer of heat in space, the research can eventually be applied to cooling down microprocessors in computers.

Matheson said the research can also be used to study fuel in spacecrafts, creating opportunities for humans to travel further into space.

“We’re not just crazy student students with petri dishes,” Matineu said.

The club consists of around 20 members, 10 of whom are active.

“We’re a rather small club, but we do large experiments,” Koeln said.  “It takes a lot of different skills. We’re mainly undergrad students. We have a couple of advisers in the mechanical engineering and physics departments we talk to, but we’re mostly self-driven.”

Although the majority of the team is engineering majors, they insist the club is open to all departments.  “Everybody is welcome to join us. No one is turned away,” Barnett said.

GAS has landed Barnett two jobs. He said it looks great on a resume, and in a volatile field like aerospace, more than a degree is needed to get a job.

Koen said the newest aspect of GAS is an outreach program that has already reached more than 3,000 students in elementary and middle schools around the state. Getting kids excited about math and science, not to mention getting in some bragging rights for USU, has been the start of a very successful program.

“The team is starting to get ambitious with it,” he said.

At the end of a long day of models, chambers, and presentations, Martineau said it’s all worth it.

“Being on the team makes you feel like you’re doing something that can make a difference in the world.”

–  allee.evensen@aggiemail.usu.edu

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