Space tales shared at IHS

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Aubri Barnett, right, visits with Betty Hanson, one of her former teachers at Iola High School.

Aubri Barnett intrigued and challenged students at Iola High School Monday morning.
A 1994 graduate of IHS, she showed students in three classes photographs of spacecraft and high tech projects she has had a role in. Barnett said space shuttle missions have technical risks — two shuttle crews have died in mission accidents — and space travel may cause health problems, but, given the chance, she would ride the next shuttle “in a heartbeat.”
Barnett is a research engineer for Radiance Technologies, a Hattiesburg, Miss., company that does contract work for the departments of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security. She is completing work on a doctorate in physics at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
After graduating from Iola, Barnett found herself on an assembly line at Kustom Signals in Chanute. Three years of hard, repetitive work prompted her to enroll at Pittsburg State University, where she studied electronics and computer science. After three and a half years of course work at PSU and Kansas State University’s campus in Salina, Barnett had a change of heart and set her goal on a bachelor’s degree in physics. She earned it from Southern Mississippi and two years later added a master’s.
Meanwhile, she was hired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a job she held for six years while attending school. In 2008, Radiance Technologies came calling.
She isn’t one to step away from challenges and encouraged students to set goals and diligently work toward fulfilling them.
“Anyone can go to college,” she said, but “college isn’t for everyone. You have many options.”
Barnett noted while she and others have college degrees, not all who help develop high tech programs and devices at Radiance are college graduates.
“Some who work for the company are former military and have no college education,” she said. Their advantage, Barnett said, is they bring real-life experience.
Learning, Barnett observed, is a life-long experience.

PHOTOGRAPHS featuring projects that she had been a part of fascinated the students. One photo showed an Ultra High Vacuum Chamber, another, a Mars Electrostatics Chamber.
The vacuum chamber is used to test equipment before it is propelled into space. The Mars chamber duplicates atmospheric conditions of the Red Planet, to test and prepare equipment used in Martian exploration. Barnett had a big role in developing and constructing the Mars chamber. One photo showed her lying prone in the confined chamber installing components.
At NASA, Barnett spent time at Cape Canaveral. She recalled how tests of giant rocket engines, designed to put huge payloads into space, were conducted about two miles from her office — “close enough to knock pictures off the walls.”
Barnett also showed a photo of her sitting in the command pilot’s seat of a space shuttle. After the shuttle Columbia accident, she was part of a NASA team that examined foam material sprayed on external fuel tanks. She told how the foam broke away and damaged heat-protection panels on the shuttle. That led to the shuttle breaking up during re-entry of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Her role with Radiance is on several fronts, including some that translates well to work on her doctorate. Key products include electro-optical systems, radar power distribution technologies, high speed signal processing and life-sensing systems.
Radiance has developed systems that instantly detect, classify, locate and respond to fired weapons and a Triage Sensor that remotely analyzes casualties in hazardous emergency situations, which permits better decisions on recovery techniques. The company has offices in 19 states and in countries throughout the world. Barnett thinks that, due to the economy, the future of the U.S. space program will be through private companies.

ANSWERING questions, Barnett told the students that they, too, could excel.
“I don’t remember what my high school grade point average was,” she said. “Probably something over 3.0. Colleges are there to help you learn. You just have to explore your options and set a goal. Work hard and don’t plan on others for motivation.”
Barnett is the daughter of Iolan Leonard Barnett. She lives in Mississippi with her daughter, Allison, 14, and son, Maxwell, 2.