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Mont Alto students, prof attend NASA program

June 28, 2009

MONT ALTO, Pa. -- Penn State Mont Alto recently sent off three students and their professor to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Siegfried "Zig" Herzog, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and his students attended the final stage of NASA's RockSat program that culminated in their experiment being launched into the upper atmosphere inside a NASA-modified Terrier-Orion rocket.

The students and their adviser have been working together for nearly two years to prepare the canister that will house their own experiment, as well as experiments from teams at Boston University and Virginia Tech.  

Each of the Mont Alto student participants recently completed their sophomore years and will move on to University Park or other Penn State campuses in the fall, but not before their research project is complete.

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During his freshman year at Mont Alto, Tim Svirbly of Gardners, Pa., heard about the NASA project and got together with a few students he knew at Mont Alto who also had an interest in aerospace engineering. They asked Herzog to advise their team and began on a nearly two-year-long intensive research project together.

"Everything we did had to be researched," Svirbly said in a news release. "We worked really hard and learned so much."

The Mont Alto students' experiment involves testing material stresses on a circular aluminum plate similar to those commonly used in rockets to carry experiments, batteries and other items. Their data will be recorded on a Secure Data (SD) card. When they arrived at Wallops Island, they met up with the teams from Boston University and Virginia Tech to allow them to insert their experiments into the shared canister. NASA will then inspect and test the canister and its contents to determine if they are probable to survive the flight.

The Terrier-Orion rocket is a two-stage rocket that will stand 30 feet high and is about a foot in diameter. After the rocket's launch, it will return to earth about 50 miles offshore, where it will be pulled in by NASA recovery ships. The canister will be returned to the students and should it have survived flight, they will evaluate and analyze the data collected.

Kylie Flickinger of Gettysburg, Pa., aspires to work for NASA someday and said the project helped her learn to work together within a group of engineers.

"This is how it will be when we get out (of school)," she says. Her teammate, Robert Stottlemyer of Paradise, Pa., most appreciated learning how to build a circuit board and getting to work with machine materials. Like the entire team, he is looking forward to the rocket launch at the Wallops Flight Facility.

"This has been a fantastic learning experience -- for me, too," Herzog said.

The team was to camp alongside teams from universities all around the nation at Wallops Island during the 10 days while NASA tests each participant's projects and prepares the rocket for its launch into the upper atmosphere.

"This experience will determine the rest of their lives," Herzog said.

The other students involved are Harshad Kappor of Shippensburg, Pa., and Adam Kuhlman of Chambersburg, Pa.

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