James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- How would it feel to be put on the spot by a future NASA engineer?

Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport were during a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. They compared notes with Space Academy students in a Q&A session on working their way up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder as well as the similarities and differences between aerospace and motorsports engineering.

In a nod to STEM, Newgarden shared that mathematical knowledge is necessary in conserving fuel to reach a finish line for both race cars and space shuttles. In contrast, while engineers of flight machinery focus on lift, Hinchcliffe educated students on the role of downforce in the speed and agility of a race car. Space campers were no older than middle school, but like Newgarden and Hinchcliffe at that age, their futures are driven toward the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“It’s not easy to become a race car driver,” said Hinchcliffe, who attended Space Camp as a teen. “It’s not easy to become an astronaut, a mechanic or an engineer, but these are all really cool jobs and a lot of people want them. And the people who are going to get them are the ones who work the hardest. Work hard and stay focused and there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Both were also put to the test at Space Camp in machines designed to simulate space travel. The day didn’t end without a race though. The ultimate challenge? A 1/6th gravity foot race followed by the tumble-spin of the Multi-Axis trainer without getting sick, at which both drivers succeeded.