By Sarah Rank
NASA recently held its Community College Aerospace Scholars (CAS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A fellow crusader stunned competition and brought home first place.
Junior computer science major Eric Sanford was appointed team leader of a group consisting of six highly educated individuals from other Texas community colleges who together created a lengthy proposal for the design of a first ever sample return mission from Mars.
The pitched design focused on a prototype that could effectively travel to Mars, collect data and successfully return.
Sanford along with the team attended a special class conducted by physics instructor John McClain at Temple Junior College. The group met once a week and tapped into the NASA mindset to prepare for the convention where their ideas would be put to the test by trained scientists.
“The course focused on thinking on your feet, thinking in a hostile environment, developing alternative solutions, engineering basics, team building and leadership, and how to deal with various types of employees,” McClain said.
Once arriving in Houston, members put aside the detailed 20-page proposal and began working on designing a robot within two days.
Sanford explains the pressure NASA put on the individuals by requiring multiple deadlines for the team to complete throughout the entire process.
“I know there was one instance where I literally didn’t have time to even prepare for a presentation. I was walking to the podium and thinking in my head at the same time about what I was going to say for seven and a half minutes. And I was the first one to present,” he said.
Fortunately for Sanford, he finds his strengths in working with teams as well as public speaking; therefore, his role on the team couldn’t have been more accurate.
Computer science and engineering professor Dr. Bill Tanner has had the opportunity to see great potential in Sanford, and is content in knowing fresh ideas are being heard by NASA.
“This project isn’t just a pie in the sky. It’s something that is going to happen potentially in the next decade. They want to hear what people like Eric have to say about it,” he said.
While NASA’s contributions to science as well as other fields have helped tremendously in the growth of US intelligence, the program continuously looks to younger minds for new ideas.
“When you get into NASA and you keep hearing the same proposals retreaded over and over, it is highly important to find people who have imaginations that are still alive in some respect. Students like Eric have imaginations that are allowed to roam in any direction they want to,” Tanner said.
Sanford and the teams’ success came as no surprise to McClain.
“Their robot skunked the competition and Eric gave the best presentation by far. The only thing that may have surprised me was the amount by which they blew away the competition,” he said.
The NASA program Sanford participated in not only helped him in growing stronger as a team player, but, in turn, the science gurus of America were able to hear an innovative idea spoken by a true crusader.
Tanner said, “We need people of his talent to make the difference in our future.”