University Relations and Communications

Partnership built on a hunch

May 6, 2010



Florence Gold, NASA HUNCH coordinator for Montana, 690-2661 or
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Open house provides insights to new NASA partnership at MSU Billings


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Thanks to some high school students, NASA could someday soon have success in growing plants in zero gravity or new hardware for scientific tasks in outer space. And the bridge to make is at Montana State University Billings.


Through a unique partnership with NASA and MSU Billings, students in Montana and the Midwest are being exposed to science, math and engineering challenges via the High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH).  Those challenges will not only boost science, math and engineering skills, but provide NASA with tools for the future, said Florence Gold, the HUNCH coordinator for Montana and the region.


A graduate of MSU Billings who spent seven years teaching in Laurel and other places, Gold is now on a mission to expose as many high schools and students to the possibilities of HUNCH.  Using a small office on the main floor at the MSU Billings College of Education as her own “mission control” center, she coordinates educational efforts between NASA and interested teachers throughout the region.


In order to get others better acquainted with the new HUNCH national lab office and the services she provides, Gold is hosting an open house for educators, the community and others on Monday, May 10. The open house will be from 7:30-9:30 a.m. in the first floor foyer of the College of Education building on the MSU Billings main campus, 1500 University Drive.


The free event will include information on NASA projects, an overview of HUNCH as well as information from Stacy Hale, the HUNCH project manager.


Hale, a former deputy project manager for the International Space Station training facility launched HUNCH in 2003 when he discovered that one of the biggest challenges for astronauts was a shortage of training hardware. Through HUNCH, which is now extended to schools from Texas, Alabama, Tennessee and Montana, nearly 600 students have participated in projects to build NASA training hardware.


Gold got involved when she was teaching at Laurel High School and got her students to work on the manufacturing of some small-scale storage lockers.  Since space is at a premium on the International Space Station, effective use of size and materials is important.


Gold said the student embraced the challenge and developed a prototype that was eventually delivered to NASA officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.


“Those experiments can be related to all kinds of things,” said Gold, whose enthusiasm for the space-related science is contagious. “And it’s done all by the kids! They actually design, fabricate and document it. It’s amazing.”


HUNCH is designed to not only fulfill current NASA needs, but also build the foundation for the future. Real-world challenges help students build confidence in their scientific and mathematical abilities, inspires the next generation of engineers and scientists and forms important partnerships between Montana schools and NASA.


Being located at MSU Billings provides Gold an opportunity to talk with education students who are studying science and math and is a central location for Montana teachers who want to find out more about bringing HUNCH into their classroom. 


Courses used for the projects have involved machining, automotive repair, physics, biology, electronics and engineering design. In doing the projects, NASA supplies the materials, consumables and oversight to build the hardware while schools and teachers supply the technical direction, working environment and commitment to build the hardware. Students supply the boundless curiosity and the can-do spirit. 


The hands-on, problem-solving challenges have unlimited benefits, Gold said.


“If we want our kids to be problem solvers, and thinkers and creative, we have to expose them to these things,” she said. “They’re really learning to be engineers.”


For more information on the NASA HUNCH program located at MSU Billings, contact Gold at 690-2661 or by e-mail at


PHOTO ABOVE: Florence Gold coordinates the NASA HUNCH project in Montana from an office at the College of Education at MSU Billings.