Two hundred high school students packed an auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Monday, Jan. 23, for a competition to program miniature satellites aboard the International Space Station. Alliance Rocket from the United States and virtual participants Alliance CyberAvo from Europe were named the winners in the third annual NASA-sponsored Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge.
Student teams wrote programming code for two small NASA robotic satellites aboard the station. Astronauts Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, who currently live aboard the International Space Station, presided over the event and gathered data from the student-controlled SPHERES flight programs after each phase of the competition. Current and former astronauts were on hand at MIT to share their experiences in space with the student audience, including Greg Chamitoff, Leland Melvin, John Grunsfeld and Jeff Hoffman. Spaceflight participant Richard Garriott, who traveled to the space station about a Soyuz, also attended.
Both winning efforts consisted of three teams. The teams that made up Alliance Rocket were Team Rocket, River Hill High School, Clarksville, Md.; Defending Champions, Storming Robots, Branchburg, N.J.; and SPHEREZ of Influence, Rockledge High School/Brevard County, Fla. Alliance CyberAvo consisted of CyberAvo, I.T.I.S. Amedeo Avogrado, Turin, Italy; Ultima, Kaethe Kollwitz Oberschule, Berlin, Germany; and Lazy, Heinrich Hertz Gymnasium, Berlin, Germany. A total of 36 teams participated in the SPHERES event.
"It is just amazing to me what these high school students have accomplished," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "To program a robotic spacecraft with the precision of a NASA flight controller is quite a feat, but to have that ability, talent and discipline at such a young age is remarkable. Our future is in good hands."
NASA sponsors the Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge in partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and MIT. The competition aligns with the agency's goal of encouraging students to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
The SPHERES National Laboratory is operated by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
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