San Jacinto College students got an opportunity of a lifetime witnessing an astronaut training session first-hand at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Sonny Carter Training Facility/Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL).
Named in honor of the late astronaut M. L. "Sonny" Carter, who was instrumental in developing many of the current space-walking techniques used by the astronauts, the NBL is also famously featured in the Hollywood films Armageddon and Space Cowboys.
Students were taken on a tour by Shawn Alexander, Raytheon project engineer and San Jac alumnus. In addition to seeing a life-size model of the International Space Station (ISS) underwater in the facility’s giant 6.2 million-gallon swimming pool, students also got a rare experience to see Astronaut Chris Cassidy perform an underwater ISS repair training exercise. Just getting Cassidy suited up for the training took four staff members and a crane to lower him into the pool since his suit, once on and secured, weighs more than 300 lbs.
“Seeing the NBL in all its glory never gets old,” said Alexander. “Every day there’s something new to experience. Bringing students in to see what goes on behind the scenes is one of my favorite ways to pay it forward. San Jac helped me find my passion and achieve my career goals. I hope that by seeing what opportunities are available in engineering and the space industry, other students will be inspired to explore their interests in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and see where it takes them.”
Faculty were just as amazed as the students were. Biology professor and NASA field trip coordinator Dr. Sheema Nasir said that collaboration is always key. “I am so thankful to have been able to work with Sean and his team to coordinate this event. These opportunities for our students would not be possible without the wonderful collaborations and partnerships we have with industry leaders like NASA. College leadership, especially our life sciences department chair, Lambrini Nicopoulos, is always supportive of how we can go above and beyond for our students with experiences like this.”
Dr. Christopher Wild, San Jacinto College South Campus department chair of physical sciences, added that opportunities like these are what help the College remain a leader in STEM education. “When students get to see what’s out there and how their degrees pay off, it ignites a spark that encourages them to keep going,” said Wild. “It’s broadens their perspectives about what a career in STEM entails, they see what they get to do in those careers, and it shows them how the opportunities are attainable and within their reach.”
For more information on STEM programs at San Jacinto College, visit sanjac.edu/stem.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries, and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has served the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. The College is fiscally sound, holding bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. San Jacinto College is a 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top 10 institution, a 2017 Aspen Prize Rising Star Award recipient, and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. The College serves approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students annually, and offers eight areas of study that put students on a path to transfer to four-year institutions or enter the workforce. San Jacinto College’s impact on the region totals $1.3 billion in added income, which supports 13,044 jobs.