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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

Ukiah High School Machine Tool students working with NASA to produce gear used in space

In Jay Montesonti’s Machine Tool classes, students are building brackets for storage lockers that hold experiments and shuttle gear to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Through HUNCH, students have a unique opportunity to learn skills and make a real-world contribution to NASA’s space missions.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of our Machine Tool students and the entire program,” said Ukiah Unified superintendent Deb Kubin. “Their work with NASA will be something these kids never forget. On behalf of Ukiah Unified School District, I want to congratulate our students and staff on this impressive achievement!”

Sixteen years ago, the NASA HUNCH program was founded to give high school students new educational experiences by producing items for the ISS. The program works on various projects, ranging from industrial sewing to space equipment to culinary technology. The HUNCH program is a partnership between local educators, NASA, and students. Ukiah High students work in the Space Flight Equipment category, creating high-quality hardware. 

Ukiah High School’s relationship with NASA happened when Mr. Montesonti was on Facebook recently and ran across Glenn Johnson, his Ukiah High physics teacher from the 1990s. Mr. Johnson moved on from his time with Ukiah High to work for NASA and is now involved with HUNCH in Design & Prototyping. After Mr. Montesonti let Mr. Johnson know that he was Ukiah High’s Machine Shop and Welding teacher, the rest is history.

“I love to see my students get excited about a project, and that’s what’s happening here. They show up early and stay late to work on the NASA parts. I believe it’s critical for our students to get as much real-world experience as possible,” said teacher Jay Montesonti. “And it doesn’t get any more real than NASA.”

NASA provides detailed plans or drawings that the Ukiah High students follow to produce brackets for lockers that store clothing astronauts wear under their spacesuits. The brackets produced must meet the same standards applied to all hardware on the International Space Station. Students are also taught and shown proper project and safety documentation, making them more accountable for their output. 

Beyond NASA and the students, bracket production is a community-wide effort. Local machinist Rick Simons is volunteering to help Mr. Montesonti and the students set up a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine that cuts out parts for the lockers. CNC machining is a process in which pre-programmed computer software controls the movement of machinery and tools like the milling machine used by Ukiah High students on this project. 

Mr. Montesonti commented, “The design and build principles and lessons learned in this project will carry over into a variety of other disciplines and careers, and the opportunity to work with NASA is priceless. I want our kids to see how things work in the real world, and I want them to experience what it takes to move an item through the entire design/build process and then get to see it in action. When this is over, they’ll get photos of a locker they worked on while it’s used on the ISS. All of the astronauts' will sign the locker, and we’ll get it back once they’re done with it!”

To learn more about Machine Shop and Welding at Ukiah High School, contact Jay Montesonti at [email protected]