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In The News


Michael Cline: One SmallSat, One Giant Impact

By: Heather L. Ogletree


Like most first time NASA interns, Michael Cline, a sophomore mechanical engineering student, can attest to the benefits of getting real hands-on experience while in school. “I went into my internship with little knowledge of the real world outside the classroom engineering,” he said.  “This was my first co-op assignment for my degree, and my lack of experience was evident during the first couple of weeks of the internship.”  As a student from the University of Cincinnati, Cline must complete six tours, or co-op semesters, where he is encouraged and expected to step outside of the classroom to build critical skills in “real world” environments. So what better place to start than NASA?  

Cline came to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility through the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) during the spring of 2011 to take part in a project entitled “SmallSat Development.”

He explained, “The project concept is interesting in that it illustrates the new direction NASA seems to be considering with regard to spaceflight.  SmallSat builds off of the CubeSat approach, but looks to pack more science capability into the smaller package. One potential for this technology is instead of releasing one large satellite into orbit, several smaller satellites could be released, each with its own purpose and instruments.”  
Cline continued, “This means viable scientific satellites can be constructed cheaper, faster and in greater numbers….One of my supervisors told me, ‘This 6U CubeSat size satellite has never been done before at NASA GSFC/WFF. You can call yourself a pioneer.’ Now that’s a cool feeling.”

According to John Hudeck, Cline’s NASA mentor, it was Cline’s responsibility “to design and build ground support equipment (GSE) to support satellite deployment testing.”  He had to design under low budget and tight schedule conditions which both tested and developed Cline as an engineer.  He related, “In everyday life or a classroom environment, you don’t really see the detail that goes into analyzing the mechanics of any small part, even in a mechanics class.  You normally don’t think about having to test springs or the friction coefficients of materials.  You don’t realize the hours necessary to plan for and set up a good test of equipment.  In fact, 90% of all my work was preparing for a test.”

However, before he got to the testing phase of his project, Cline went through the design process.  It took a few trips back to the drawing board, but after some trial and error and with the help of Hudeck, the in-house machinist, as well as other Wallops engineers, Cline not only developed the confidence and competency to design working parts, he also gained invaluable experience in technical communication and teamwork.  “My mentors were incredibly helpful, patient and supportive,” he said.  “I quickly learned and became a productive member of the team. There’s a really great feeling you get when you design a component, then hold it in your hands a few days later. You get an even better feeling when the part works exactly as you intended.”

After Cline graduates, he hopes to work in the aerospace industry, but he indicated, “I’d love nothing more than to be permanently employed at NASA.  I loved this job!”

Hudeck commented, “Michael was a pleasure to have on the SmallSat team. He was a hard worker and a team player.  He represented the USRP program well and I am sure he will have continued success in the future.”