My job has me traveling quite a bit these days. As some of you may recall from my January article, I’m an engineer and I work in the construction industry. I often visit job sites to assess the quality and workmanship of newly built buildings. Recently I visited a project in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, also known as the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is home to Space Camp and the Army Redstone Arsenal. I made arrangements to stay an extra day so that I could visit the museum and take in the sights. While I would highly recommend the experience if you find yourself in the area, this article is not about the facility itself. I was fortunate enough to be in town the same weekend as the 2019 Rover Challenge. Since 1994, NASA has hosted a competition for high school and college students to design, build, and race “moonbuggy-like” vehicles. From the event’s website:
The Rover Challenge continues the agency’s mission of providing valuable learning opportunities to students who, someday, may be responsible for planning future space missions, including crewed missions to other worlds. After constructing their own rovers, teams attempt to traverse a nearly three-quarter-mile course with grueling obstacles that simulate terrain found on Mars, as well as other planets, moons and asteroids throughout the solar system. In addition, they have to complete tasks, such as sample collection and instrument deployment.
Since 1994, the event has attracted schools and colleges from all over the world. This year over 100 teams registered and competed. I met students and teachers from dozens of U.S. states and other countries. A team from Technólogico de Monterrey, Mexico broke out into a song while cheering on their teammates. Some teams created five-spoke wheels using the bases of office rolling chairs. Others wore their school colors, gloves, hats, and even space-themed socks. The whole event was broadcast live on NASA TV. In addition to the race, the students visited the museum’s exhibits, demonstrations, and many “space-flown” artifacts. They met NASA staff, faculty, and contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Jacobs, and Aerojet Rocketdyne. There were also schools in attendance that didn’t compete in 2019, but were taking notes so they’ll be ready to compete in 2020’s event. Thousands of people including students, teachers, parents, volunteers, and sponsors now come together every year for this event and have made it something truly special to look forward to. As Special Guest Astronaut Sunita Williams so eloquently said during the event, “it’s like American Ninja Warrior for geeks!”
The whole trip was fun and exciting, but I feel incredibly lucky especially to have been able to catch the Rover Challenge. It reminded me of similar events I was a part of when I was younger. From a fifth-grade Egg Drop to a college-level Electrathon race, the hard work and dedication of so many is an inspiration and gives me a bright outlook on the future.
Business & STEM Representative, WATG