Returning to the moon is an important component of the vision for space exploration in the United States and Case Western Reserve University men's basketball player Mason Conrad helped it get a little closer to that goal through a recent internship with NASA.
Conrad conducted research on the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) at the NASA Glenn Research Center two days a week during the second semester of last school year and for 10 weeks this past summer. The CEV is the spacecraft of choice for new explorations to the moon. It is an Apollo-style capsule with a large heat shield on the bottom. NASA is working on the area where the shield meets the rest of the capsule. Conrad completed tests on materials that would serve as a buffer.
"Since it is a new vehicle design, there are different requirements than Apollo," Conrad said. "They designed Apollo 50 years ago, so there is new technology and material to use now."
Conrad, a senior center on the basketball team, got to "burn stuff" with a gas torch, which he used to "get in trouble for" growing up in his hometown of Tarpon Springs, Fla. Joking aside, it was hands-on work, which he appreciated.
"I was pretty lucky as an intern because most of the interns sit there and do one week of work over ten weeks," Conrad said. "They just don't have that much responsibility. I got to do fun stuff like fire test, which was cool."
Although his research may never materialize, the CEV will happen because NASA is investing in the program. The seals Conrad researched would allow the heat shield to jettison off so they could land the capsule on land and not in the water.
"Originally, they wanted to shoot the shield off so air bags could pop out of the bottom and they could land the CEV in a desert somewhere," he said. "They could decide to not jettison the heat shield in which case the testing I did would not be of use."
Conrad, a mechanical engineering major with a 3.71 G.P.A., began the joint Bachelor of Science and Master of Science program in the fall. It allows highly motivated and qualified undergraduates the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree during their senior year.
At the conclusion of this basketball season, Conrad has a chance to become a three-time ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District IV and University Athletic Association (UAA) All-Academic selection. Already a three-time All-UAA honorable mention honoree, Conrad entered his final season on the hardwood with 439 career rebounds and 916 career points. If he produces like he did a year ago, he could move into the top five on both all-time lists.
As the Spartans stand 6-2 on the year, Conrad, who is currently averaging 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and scored his 1,000th career point last month, appreciates a past journey and awaits a future trip. Case Western Reserve traveled to Brazil this past August for some international competition and will head to Florida during December for a holiday tournament. "There are people who are not on an athletic team who don't get that type of opportunity [Brazil]," Conrad said. "Having former players sponsor us so we could travel as a team made me feel special. It is also cool to be able to play in Tampa, near home, as the last big trip of my career."
So is the product of the Sunshine State ready for his fourth consecutive Ohio winter? Surely, he has adapted to the change in season by now. "I have finally gotten used to it, but I don't really like it," said Conrad. "A lot of people think you start to love the seasons; I don't. I prefer it a hundred degrees and sand in my face."
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