Harper College has its own rocket scientists, and they're building rockets for NASA.
Scott Mueller of Elk Grove Village and Craig Babiarz of Rolling Meadows, both second-year Harper students, are leading a 10-person team to design and build a reusable rocket to be launched next spring at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Their work includes the creation of a four-legged robot that will eject from inside the rocket and navigate its way back to the launch stand on its own, a project designed to simulate putting an unmanned ground vehicle on Mars.
Harper is one of only six two-year colleges to be selected for the University Student Launch Initiative, which features nearly 40 teams from institutions including MIT and Northwestern University.
For Babiarz, the project is a gateway to a career in aerospace engineering.
"As a student at a two-year college, it's a great opportunity to get my foot in the door," says Babiarz, who plans to transfer to the University of Illinois or Georgia Tech after completing his Harper education.
The team was notified of its acceptance to the program this fall. Physics Professor Maggie Geppert, the team's faculty sponsor, said the students -- seven from Harper and three from DeVry University -- have spent a "staggering" amount of time on the project.
Their research has qualified them for $3,000 in NASA funding and the chance to launch three cargo payloads at the April competition.
"The bar for design excellence set by NASA is quite high, and I'm so pleased with how the students have jumped over it," Geppert said. "They have been learning valuable lessons about goals, leadership and teamwork that will serve them well when they graduate and start working in the industry."
In addition to doing research and building the rockets and cargo, the students are building a website and doing community outreach to inspire young people to learn more about engineering.
In June, several students, including Mueller and Babiarz, participated in NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. Additionally, two other Harper students in the last year have been among those selected for the organization's prestigious National Community College Aerospace Scholars Program.