Think back to your high school days… It’s OK, we’ll wait. Would you have been a little more interested in going to school if you knew your schoolwork could be used by scientists in outer space? That is exactly what some lucky high school students are getting to do through an innovative partnership between educational institutions and NASA, called the HUNCH program. As the U.S. continues to slip in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, NASA wants to encourage high school students to explore these fields and inspire the next generation of machinists, technicians and engineers.

One such NASA HUNCH collaboration in Texas has students in vocational classes producing storage lockers and cargo transfer bags for astronaut training and for use on the International Space Station (ISS). If the students are going to get first-hand experience, then they need first-rate materials. The school and HUNCH mentors provide the tools and direction, and Metal Supermarkets delivers the special grade aluminum required for the jobs.

“HUNCH stands for ‘High School Students Uniting with NASA to Create Hardware.’ Organizations like NASA realize there is a significant skills gap in the workforce, so they are taking it upon themselves to try to fill that gap by exposing them to different aspects of technology and engineering,” explains Roy Bellard, HUNCH Hardware Education Specialist.

When NASA needs metal, it can’t be any run-of-the-mill material. Since the metal is ultimately being used outside Earth’s atmosphere, it must meet strict specifications to ensure it stays intact when exposed to the extreme conditions of space travel. “NASA doesn’t like cracked hardware because when it takes off on the rocket, the vibration spreads the cracks, and then you have faulty equipment, and they can’t afford that up there (even if it is just an experimental box),” says Bellard.

For instance, NASA’s request for quotation (RFQ) for the storage locker projects specified they would need aerospace grade, heat-treated 7075 aluminum and cut-to-size plates from .375 inches to 2 inches, plus several small pieces of odd sizes and grades in 15-5ph, 7075 and 6061 bars. It was no problem for Metal Supermarkets to fulfill the requests because they can source any metal, any time, cut to any size.

“With the material we got from Metal Supermarkets, we’re building single storage lockers for the ISS that will allow the scientists do all kinds of experiments – from growing crystals to growing plants to putting bugs in there to testing out new electronics,” says Bellard.

When a project requires the highest strength metal, be sure to use 7075 aluminum. As Jeff Werner from Metal Supermarkets Dallas store points out, this is one of the highest strength aluminum alloys available. This material has high strength-to-weight ratio and is often used for highly stressed parts.

Bellard had this to say about the delivery of his metal: “Give a big thanks to the guys on your shop floor. I have uncrated most of the metal … it seems consistent with care of handling each block … To say the least, I was impressed with the quality of handling the material.”

The Metal Supermarkets business concept was established in 1985 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Since then, the company has grown to more than 65 franchise locations across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Metal Supermarkets is the only international brand in the small quantity metals industry. More than 60,000 customers rely on Metal Supermarkets for “one stop shopping” for all their small metal requirements and the ability to purchase what they need, when they need it.

The Metal Supermarkets brand is known for superior customer care from start to finish, and the most high-quality metal products available.  Customers include manufacturing facilities, maintenance departments, tool and die makers, fabricators, machine shops, military and other government departments, hobbyists and homeowners.

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