Story and Photos by Camas Frank
Any chance to tag along on on a tour of Cal Poly’s AeroSpace Engineering labs is a fun day.
It’s refreshing as well to see a little “kid in a candy store” enthusiasm from a hardened politician. Congressman Salud Carbajal is no doubt skilled at the political arts, even in serving his freshman term representing the California 24th District, but his pleasure on Aug. 29 at having the Department’s professors and students explain what they’ve been designing seemed genuine.
The Congressman showed, and stated, a characteristic pride in in the CSU’s accomplishments, gratitude that it’s in his district and not someone elses’, and a remarkable level of restraint in actually asking when he might be allowed to touch objects on display.
Unlike the current Vice President of the United States, noted for being photographed fondling a NASA satellite in front of the “Do not touch” signs, Carbajal was in fact told that it would be “all right” to touch some solar paneling slated for Cal Poly’s attempt to make the, “fastest solar car in the world.”
Students’ work also includes a longstanding investment in cutting edge space technology, mainly through their CubeSat program, and the next generation of energy and transportation back on Earth.
The Congressman was there in part, to see where the $5 million he managed to steer the university’s way as part of an amendment to the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to increase funding for Defense Department Educational Partnership Agreements.
As explained by his office, that’s “meant to sustain the United States’ technological edge by investing in military-academia research partnerships.”
The result is to put Cal Poly on the list for a good chunk of US Air Force research money for a new lab that would help link students to state of the art computer modeling.
And for the record, said Cal Poly assistant professor Graham Doig after guiding the Congressman and entourage through the lab containing the department’s wind tunnel, the Air Force approached Cal Poly, not the other way around.
Department Chair David Marshall noted they’ve also been on a strategic hiring plan to grow in certain directions to benefit their students.
It’s not exactly surprising that Carbjajal – a Marine Corps veteran whose district includes Vandenberg Air Force Base, Camp San Luis, and several other military oriented facilities, as well as local labs for Lockheed and other weapons contractors – would have a keen interest in that area.
That’s why he’s on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) as well as on the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Readiness.
However a lone journalist tagging along on a tour of a public institution of higher learning would be remiss not to question the seeming discrepancy in the Representative’s hardcore anti-President Trump sentiments with the seemed willingness to stake the future of students on funding the kind of militarism the President promotes.
In short, “How do you square the reason for this tour with your liberal politics in the age of Trump?”
Rep. Carbajal, as noted skilled in the political arts, shook the journalist’s hand in front of the Cal Poly luminaries to respond to the perhaps out of context questioning that: this effort is of particular good for the local economy and, generally, the constituents of the 24th California District, so he’s going to help Cal Poly achieve that end, as the “administration and defense are separate issues.”
Marshall understood the gist of that line of questioning after the tour though, noting that it is a concern for students who have long sought out the CubeSat lab run by Dr. Jordi Puig-Suari – coming from all technical disciplines – as well as to join programs centered on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) for search and rescue and other peacetime uses. Even the lab housing the wind tunnel, where a mock up scale model of a rocket was stored after testing, also housed a 3D printed testing model of olympic luge sledders in the hopes of giving Team USA an edge some day.
To echo the Congressman after examining another printed model a replica of a pelican wing being tested in the lab, “Boy, I wish I could come back to school again.”