High School Students Solve NASA Duct Tape Dilemma

By unraveling a duct tape challenge, students make astronauts’ lives easier.

May 5, 2021


High School Students Solve NASA Duct Tape Dilemma | By unraveling a duct tape challenge, students make astronauts’ lives easier.

Sometimes astronauts get into a sticky situation up in space. When something needs repairing, it often turns out that duct tape is a preferred fix-it-all. Since tearing the tape with one hand while floating is no easy task, high school students just came up with a brilliant solution. They invented a duct tape dispenser that is out of this world!

Students belonging to HUNCH (High School Students United With NASA) have just made life a lot easier for astronauts. In the 18 years since the program has operated, students have been busy designing and building equipment that is then implemented on the International Space Station (ISS), according to HUNCH.

They have built handrails, lockers, and designed a galley table so astronauts can comfortably enjoy meals. HUNCH students have even come up with tasty recipes ideal for space dining, their culinary winner being strawberry rhubarb crisp! And now, students from five states combined their efforts to come up with a solution to the duct tape dilemma, according to Space

Duct tape, called “grey tape,” along with Kapton high temperature tape, are indispensable tools for astronauts. Over the years, these durable tapes have come in handy in times of emergency.

As early as 1970, according to CollectSpace, it was used on the Apollo 13 mission.  Using duct tape, astronauts took a flight manual cover, a plastic bag, and a sock to repair a power-providing solar array that was torn. And in 1972, the crew on Apollo 17 sealed a map onto a damaged fender of their lunar rover, according to NASA, that was affixed by duct tape.

Yet the sticky issue of duct tape is that astronauts do not have two hands to tear it, according to the  NASA HUNCH video. The only way to tear it is with one’s teeth or with scissors. Enter HUNCH.

The students designed a tape dispenser that locks into place on the guard rail. The tape dispenser provides a clean cut, can be used easily with one hand, and several rolls of tape can be placed on it at one time.

It is already being used aboard the ISS. Colonel Mike Hopkins provided a glowing review aboard the spacecraft and showed the dispenser in action. "This tape dispenser I think is going to find a lot of use here on the International Space Station," Hopkins said in the video.

This tape dispenser is one of over 800 items designed by teens and flown to the ISS. Some 277 high schools participate in the program, developing skills in scientific inquiry and technology. 

One day, some of these students may launch careers with NASA. And for those who become space travelers, they may find themselves thankful for that special tape dispenser when they need to resolve a sticky space situation.

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.