By Aimee Whitaker / Special Contributor
Competing in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., the Parish Episcopal rover team is home with multiple awards and a top 10 finish.
Officially finishing seventh out of 44 high school teams and 11th overall, Parish’s time of 6 minutes, 45 seconds placed them ahead of not only many high school teams, but also several notable universities.
Parish was awarded the Neil Armstrong Best Design Award for the best technical approach to solving the engineering problem of navigating the extraterrestrial terrain of the course. The team was the only school honored with two awards during the ceremony, also bringing home the award for Most Improved Rover in the high school division.
The Parish rover team has been preparing for this year’s event — which was held on April 17-18 — since the completion of its inaugural rover challenge in 2014.
“We never stopped working on it; we’ve essentially been working on this year’s rover for two years, with last year’s design as our starting point,” said Jenn Makins, dfirector of STEM education at Parish. “After the race, the team was already talking about next year and what they would like to do differently.“
Parish sophomore Whitney Wheeler is already excited about returning to the competition next year.
“I cannot wait to spend my entire weekend up at the school, covered in grease and lost in a mountain of receipts,” Wheeler said. “It is such a learning experience and it is so great getting to see all of the other ideas and ways people create something with the same instructions as our team. This program has changed my life and I cannot imagine not being a part of it.”
The rover team utilized Parish’s Design Den maker space to develop and build the entire project. The team took advantage of the new welding shed, the CNC router, and the 3D printer to design and construct the race-worthy rover.
“This year I am most proud of how our veteran team members mentored and took care of the new members,” Makins said. “I believe it is also noteworthy that in this high-tech project, of the nine students that participated on our team this year, six are girls. We are breaking STEM boundaries and it is inspiring.”
The NASA event challenges students to create a lightweight, human-powered rover capable of performing in the demanding environments to be explored by future voyagers. The competition is designed to teach students to solve practical design and engineering problems.
“I think we were so successful this year because we had more experience going into it,” said Parish sophomore Jake Vickers. “Being in last year’s event gave us an opportunity to learn from and change what didn’t work for us. Last year we couldn’t get our drivetrain to work, so this year it was our main focus.”
The Parish rover team includes Vickers, Wheeler, Kiyah Willis, Byron Hameline, Jonathan Moebius, Madalyn White, Sophie Alford, Ema Zorzor, and Katie Wall, and is led by Parish faculty members Makins, David Cribbs and Eric Pearle.
This year’s event brought 95 registered student teams from high schools, colleges, and universities across 18 states and Puerto Rico, as well as international participants from Germany, India, Mexico and Russia.