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RITF shows high school students about fiber optics

The training room at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Receiving, Inspection and Test Facility (RITF) is usually crowded with NASA scientists and engineers leaning over magnifying glasses and soldering electronic assemblies.
But today, the room is filled with high school students.
For more than 15 years, the RITF has provided workmanship standards compliance training, issuing more than 500 training-completion certificates annually. Some of the RITF classes include lithium battery handling, torque and wire safety, and wire wrapping—all of which are absolutely imperative for repairs aboard the International Space Station.
It costs $10 million to fly hardware to the space station for critical functions, so it is crucial that the agency defines standards and ensures that everybody adheres by them. Similarly, NASA needs to train people to thoroughly screen components like wire fasteners and capacitators before they are ever incorporated into a system.

Clear Brook students in the RTIF
Earlier this year, students from Clear Brook High School learned practical applications for fiber optics technology from NASA instructors in the RITF. Image courtesy of Juan Manuel Traslaviña.

However, the RITF does more than just train the people within NASA. It occasionally pulls in middle and high school students to try their hand at workmanship skills.
“The high school instructors love to do this,” said Kim Morris, director at the Bay Area Houston Advanced Technology Consortium, who made it possible for the students to attend this training through a Space Act Agreement. “It gets students out of the classroom, into a NASA facility, learning real-world applicable skills. It benefits RITF as well, because it gives us exposure and encourages students to pursue STEM education and careers.”
For the students of Clear Brook High School, Senior Trainer Owen Farmer taught a class about the overview and application of fiber optics. 
“The instructor did a great job of promoting the telecom industry to the students through history walkthroughs,” said Tim Rogers, Clear Brook High School teacher. “He also allowed them to see and touch solid rocket-fuel engines with sensors hooked up with cable and fiber.”
“The class was very hands-on,” said Principal Engineer Juan Manuel Traslaviña. “When Owen was plugging in the students’ projects to test their effectiveness, the students were so excited that they tried to cut each other in line.”
The class not only helped students become acquainted with the hardware they would use in actual workmanship training, but gave them a taste of what it means to be a part of NASA.
“A lot of people think that you have to be a rocket scientist to work at NASA. These classes show the students that NASA needs all types of people and all types of skills,” said Larry Sikes, RITF manager.
The students also benefitted from already being somewhat familiar with the material, having learned in a broadband course prior to the session. However, Farmer was able to supplement what they already knew with tactile experience.
“Owen is the perfect teacher for any class—no matter whether the students are high school kids, or people who have been in the field for 30 years and think they already know everything,” said Cheryl Corbin, NASA RITF lead.
“The teaching was very slow and to the point, which is beneficial because it makes sure everyone understands the concept,” said one of the students after the class. “The training was easy due to it being taught step by step. It was a smooth and reassuring process throughout.” 
At the end of the day, the Clear Brook students walked away energized with newfound knowledge and confidence, and are now able to say that they’ve learned practical applications from a NASA instructor.
“Having already been to NASA to take a fiber optics workshop, just imagine the confidence they will have when they graduate high school,” Traslaviña added. 
Thalia Patrinos
NASA Johnson Space Center
Students from Clear Brook High School make the trip to NASA's Johnson Space Center in a quest to enhance hands-on learning. Image courtesy of Juan Manuel Traslaviña.
A rapt audience learns about fiber optics. Image courtesy of Juan Manuel Traslaviña.
Students peppered their NASA instructors with questions about STEM and real-world applications. Image courtesy of Juan Manuel Traslaviña.
Hands-on experience with technology was one great takeaway from the day trip to Johnson. Image courtesy of Juan Manuel Traslaviña.