Program Allows Santa Clara University Engineering Students to Operate NASA Satellite

In an area famous for tech, students at one Bay Area university are getting a unique experience by working for America's space agency controlling satellites.

At Santa Clara University, when engineering students Kayleigh Dobson and Leland Taylor sit down to study, it goes way beyond books. They operate in a trailer and in the lab, working on Earth and in space, at the same time.

"We take over, and we do some science experiments," Taylor said about the Mobile Mission Control Lab (MMCL), a 28-foot trailer that also makes the rounds at local grade schools to spur younger students' interest in STEM careers.

Santa Clara University is the only school in the country with a student-centric program that operates government and industry satellites on a professional basis, according to the university.

"I'm a student by day, NASA satellite operator by night," Dobson said.

The satellite, launched from the International Space Station, is about 3 feet by 2 feet and is currently on a health mission, testing E-coli in space.

"When the satellite is overhead, we will send it commands to ask for specific data pages," Dobson said, describing how the students operate.

"All the ground controls, all the operations for the satellite, all visuals, all the programming for it," Taylor added. " We pretty much do everything we can."

And they're running with it, putting the satellite through its paces, gaining valuable health information to help future astronauts; and perhaps even preparing for a future career.

"The first time we got data down from the satellite, I don't think the smile came off my face for hours," Dobson said. "It was the coolest experience."

The program has been around for about a decade at SCU and has seen good results. So far, four former students have left to work for Space-X.

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