A Metro Detroiter Is Playing a Key Role in a Historic Lunar Mission

Aerospace engineering student Dalton Korczyk talks about his latest project
Dalton Korczyk - lunar mission - aerospace engineering
Dalton Korczyk of Farmington Hills handles components of the revolutionary camera he’s helping to build for a lunar mission. // Photograph courtesy of courtesy of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

A year and a half ago, Intuitive Machines — a commercial partner of NASA — approached Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, with a unique proposal. The company offered Embry-Riddle students the opportunity to create the first student project ever to be sent to the moon. A student-built camera system called EagleCam, intended to capture the first-ever images of a spacecraft as it touches down on the lunar surface — essentially spacecraft selfies — will be sent to the moon aboard the Nova-C Lunar Lander, which is set to launch this fall.

Farmington Hills native Dalton Korczyk, one of 20 participating students, is leading the structures team for the project. We sat down with the 22-year-old aerospace engineering master’s student to hear about his involvement in this historic lunar mission.

Hour Detroit: How did you become interested in aerospace engineering? 

Dalton Korczyk: I first became attracted to engineering when I participated in the Robohawks club at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills. Then a couple of space movies came out while I was in high school that got me interested in aerospace. One of them was Interstellar, which I thought was a fantastic film.

How did you get involved in EagleCam?

My older brother had been working on his master’s here at Embry-Riddle, and I was in the lab helping him one day when Dr. Henderson came in to speak to him. I didn’t even know Dr. Henderson knew my name at the time, but he looked at me and asked, “Dalton, you want something cool to do?” I told him I’d love that, and he asked me to figure out how to use the lab’s thermal vacuum chamber — a very cool, very expensive piece of hardware that nobody knew how to use. Then, work began on EagleCam while I was doing my own master’s, and Dr. Henderson approached me. He said, “You’re a good student, and you successfully figured out the vacuum chamber when others couldn’t. So, I’m offering you a lead position on this project.” And of course, I took it.

You’re the structures lead. What does that entail?

I’m working to build the structure, externally and internally. So, I have to ensure all the components are going to fit and that, when we land on the moon’s surface, everything will remain intact.

How is that different from your typical coursework? 

In undergrad, you do so many projects on paper that never go anywhere. Now, I’m making something I get to watch actually become a physical object. It’s been really cool to see the project actually come to life.

When will the project be completed?

Intuitive Machines will need to integrate the system into Nova-C before the launch, so the EagleCam team here at Embry-Riddle is handing over our work this spring. We’ve still got to test all the components before then, so I think we’ll be working down to our deadline.

What have you gained from your involvement?

I’m getting real-world experience, learning the inner workings of the industry and how to communicate with others in it. There’s more to engineering than just the math and the science.

What’s most exciting about this project?  

We get to work on something that’s going to fly to space and land on the moon. That’s something a lot of people dream about doing in their career. So, to have this opportunity while at university is awesome.

What are your plans after grad school?  

Before EagleCam, I was more interested in orbital dynamics, but I was put on structures for this project and I began to enjoy combining the two. So, I expect to get a job in aerospace engineering, hopefully doing something like what I’m doing currently. 

What draws you to a career in aerospace engineering?  

Dynamics involves a level of abstraction, as opposed to, say, civil engineering, in which everything is still. I like things that move, and that’s what dynamics is all about.