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U. S., European High School Students Win Space Station Robotics Competition

NASA astronaut Don Pettit, left, and Andre Kuipers, of the European Space Agency, supervise a high school robotics competition aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit/ESA photo



U. S.and European high school student teams prevailed in a competition this week aboard the International Space Station involving a trio of colorful robotic spheres involved in the simulated exploration of an asteroid.

In all, 36 teams competed in the third annual Zero Robotics SPHERES challenge, which was orchestrated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA and the U. S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to provide students with an out-of-this-world example of the significance of math, science and engineering.

During the competition, NASA astronauts aboard the space station used laptops to control the flight of flying spheres using computer software developed by the teen aged competitors. The spheres move around using pulses of compressed gas.

High school students compete in asteroid exploration simulation using soccer ball sized robotic spheres. Image credit/NASA

The winningU. was Alliance Rocket, a partnership between Team Rocket, River Hill High School, Clarksville, Md.; Storming Robots, Branchburg, N.J.; and SPHEREZ of Influence, Rockledge High School, of Brevard County, Fla., NASA announced.

The winning European team was also a collaboration called Alliance CyberAvo. The partnership consisted of CyberAvo, I.T.I.S. Amedeo Avogrado, Turin, Italy; Ultima, Kaethe Kollwitz Oberschule, Berlin, Germany; and Lazy, Heinrich Hertz Gymnasium, Berlin, Germany, according to the European Space Agency.

This year marked the first time the SPHERES competition was extended beyong the U. S.

Student teams wrote programming code for two of the MIT developed robotic satellites. Astronauts Don Pettit, of NASA, and Andre Kuipers, of the European Space Agency, who currently live aboard the International Space Station, presided over the event in the station’s Japanese science module, Kibo.

This year’s competition involved a simulation in which minerals were extracted from asteroids, using the free floating sheres. The small satellites were permitted to collect tools, if needed, before they started to mine one of two virtual asteroids.

The robots moved using small jets. There were required to perform maneuvres based on realistic situations, such as docking, formation flying or retrieving objects.

Strategy was an important element of the competition. Teams could hinder their opponents or cooperate to share more points overall.

“It is just amazing to me what these high school students have accomplished,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. “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.”

“Robots do have a soul, and their soul is your imagination, your future,” Stefano Suraniti, the Minister of Education for the Piedmont region inItaly, told the European competitors.




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