Local high school student designs product for NASA

FRANKLIN, Mass. — A Franklin high school student is getting high praise from NASA after he created a piece of hardware so good that it will be used in space.

The hardware that senior Dom Parrella made is called an actuator.

The piece itself is around an inch in length, but for astronauts at the International Space Station who use dozens of storage lockers, the actuator is essential – and has to be perfect. It helps prevent the lockers from opening.

More than 2,000 students from across the country are a part of NASA's Hunch Program, meant to empower them by giving design and manufacturing projects. NASA's Hunch Program works with thousands of students at over 200 schools nationwide, four of them in Massachusetts.

A NASA engineer says few produce pieces that are just right.

"It's not always going to be picture-perfect, their ranges are really tight," Parrella said.

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How tight? Parrella's teacher, Jeff McCall, says it could be three-thousandths of an inch.

"Three-thousandths of an inch is the width of your hair, for the record," McCall said.

Tri-County Regional High School in Franklin has been in the hunch program for five years. While it was the first time a student from the school made a part for NASA, it was not Parrella's first attempt at it.

As a junior, Parrella ran into trouble as he neared the finish line.

"Right before one of the reviews, right before we were going to present to one of the astronauts, we had to scrap our entire project and then find something new," he remembered.

This year, Parrella, using an advanced mill, produced work that was stellar.

"I was very proud, very proud of Dom that he was able to get 11 of these done," McCall said. "They all came out flawlessly."

Each one met NASA’s standards. NASA says he's the only student from Massachusetts to produce a NASA-quality part this year.

"This is a very hard part to make," said NASA Engineering Specialist Bill Gibson. "They got it right their very first try."

"We actually get to sign them, which is really nice," Parrella said. "We get our names to go up into space."

With Parrella graduating, another student will be making another 20 of the actuators. The hope is they'll be able to continue to be able to make pieces that will be used up in space.

Parrella is set to attend UMass Dartmouth in the fall.

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