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L’SPACE program at ASU puts students on pathway to space workforce

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A program at Arizona State University is starting undergraduate students on a career path that could lead them to join NASA spaceflight mission teams. Funded at $5.04 million for three years by NASA, the program – dubbed L’SPACE (for Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler) – is designed to attract space-exploration-minded college-level science and engineering students, both at ASU and across the country.

As its name suggests, the program is the student collaboration part of the Lucy mission. Lucy was selected through NASA’s Discovery program of low-cost solar system missions. Based at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and planned for launch in 2021, the Lucy spacecraft will fly to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and examine them at close range.

“We’re training the next generation of prospective mission-savvy scientists and engineers,” said Sheri Klug Boonstra, the L’SPACE lead at ASU, where the program is part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “All the student activities are structured to use actual mission practices, protocols, and procedures.”

The L’SPACE program has several interlocking elements. The ASU Space Works Program engages science and engineering students enrolled at ASU through multi-semester capstone courses (Space Works 1 through 4) that center on students creating, building, and testing mission concepts. The program teaches them a wide variety of workforce development skills designed to launch them into careers related to space exploration.

“Being a part of the ASU Space Works program has reassured me that I am in the right place in my career,” said Hannah Stickel, who will graduate from ASU in 2020 with a degree in aerospace engineering. “I gained so much experience through hands-on learning that will help me when I start looking for jobs.”

But, Boonstra said, “the program is going way beyond ASU. It has another dimension that reaches nationwide.”

L’SPACE Virtual Academy

Distance training is being accomplished through the national L’SPACE Virtual Academy. Linked through an online virtual network, teams of students – typically 10 in each – receive hands-on mission concept design challenges, which lead them to learn how to collaborate as team members to optimize a NASA-focused project. The skills they learn are crucial ones demanded by every space exploration mission.

“When I applied,” said Helen Carson, who joined the online L’SPACE Virtual Academy from the University of Washington, “I had no idea how much the program would challenge and inspire me. I’ve learned not only about designing missions, but also about less obvious skills like writing professional documents and collaborating effectively.”

As they work in teams over the 12-week courses, students deal with engineering constraints, budget challenges, design reviews, deadlines for deliverables and uncertainties regarding scientific return. They are faced with the same kinds of difficult decisions that actual teams experience in the course of preparing missions.

Boonstra explained, “These reality-based exercises help students approach projects in a professional way. Their experiences help make them more marketable as new graduates and valuable in terms of what they can do when they enter the workforce.”

The L’SPACE Team at ASU is implementing this in partnership with the Lucy Mission Team at the Southwest Research Institute, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, KinetX, Lucy co-investigator team members and other NASA experts.

To gain a diverse participant pool, students are being recruited from science and engineering organizations and NASA programs that work with underserved groups. These include the NASA Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, NASA Space Grant, NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars and other institutions of higher education.

As of spring 2019, more than 750 students from 46 states and 299 universities have joined the program. Online L’SPACE Academy courses start three times a year, in January, May and September.

Related Links

L’SPACE Academy

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