Ohio State students helping launch humans to the moon

Posted: January 26, 2021
Buckeye engineers during their summer internship at Dynetics in 2019. Pictured is Lauren Klenk (third from left), Ada Kanapskyte (center) and Gordon Weiss (far right).

A good internship can provide real world experience, guide career path decisions, and maybe even help land a first job. But for several Buckeye engineers, their recent internships gave them an out-of-this-world opportunity—helping humans land on the moon.

The opportunity came from Dynetics, one of three prime contractors selected to design an integrated lander system for the NASA Artemis Human Landing System Program managed at Marshall Space Flight Center. The Huntsville, Alabama-based company will compete to build a system to take the first woman and next man to the moon by 2024.

Over the last two summers, a number of students who span the College of Engineering have made a valuable impact on the project, particularly in the area of environmental controls and life support systems (ECLSS), said Dynetics Project Engineer and engineering alumnus Nicolas Flesher (’18 aerospace). As the former program manager for the Buckeye Space Launch Initiative—The Ohio State University’s student rocket team—Flesher had a hand in bringing the students aboard the mission.

Current students Ada Kanapskyte and Lauren Klenk, and recent grad Gordon Weiss interned together during the summer of 2019, working on ECLSS hardware, specifically a sensor that monitors the oxygen, carbon dioxide and water concentrations in the atmosphere for astronauts within the human landing system. Kanapskyte and Klenk completed their second rotation at Dynetics in the summer of 2020.

Kanapskyte (left) and Klenk (right) working together on a environmental controls and life support systems (ECLSS) project in 2019.

Flesher was impressed by their willingness to take on challenging projects. “Having that ability to be flexible, to understand engineering from the ground up—from design to fabrication to actual production—that's all been huge.”

The fact that Kanapskyte, Klenk and Weiss all represent different fields of engineering is a testament to education and experience students receive at Ohio State, he added.

“The College of Engineering itself does a great job in preparing students to problem solve, which is the main idea behind engineering,” said biomedical engineering major Kanapskyte (spring ’21). “So despite having different disciplines that you learn in your coursework, that approach to problem solving really sets you up for coming in on day one and knowing that you won't know everything, but you'll know how to think through the problems.”

Each of the students has been involved in the Buckeye Space Launch Initiative (BSLI) team and cite it as a great environment for them to apply concepts from class, as well as collaborate and network with peers and professionals. That team building, hands-on experience with BSLI proved to be integral to their success at Dynetics.

“One of my favorite parts of working at Dynetics was that we were actually a part of a team. We weren’t just interns copying papers,” said aerospace engineering major Klenk (spring ’21). “We were actually given real work to do. And our work was taken seriously."

Rendering of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the lunar surface.

“In this field, the work you're doing is vitally important and needs to be done really well because it has severe implications on a lot of things and in this specific case, there are human life considerations,” added electrical engineering graduate Gordon Weiss (BS ’19 MS ’20), who is now an RF systems engineer at Ball Aerospace. “It felt like really impactful work, which is partly why I wanted to stay in the industry.”

Impactful indeed, as the students’ contributions could ultimately be part of the next system that puts humans on the moon, including the first female astronaut to ever step foot on the lunar surface.

“It’s really cool to say that we were a hands-on part of this technology that is now going to the moon and beyond,” said Kanapskyte.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu