The Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program held its final competition Aug. 15 on board the International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), the Dwight Look College of Engineering and the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time were the statewide sponsors for the inaugural year of participation in the state of Texas.
Kealing Middle School in Austin was named regional winner and placed second in the national competition. Guest speakers for the event included astronauts Michael Fossum ’80 and Dr. Gregory Chamitoff, professor of practice in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M.
Texas was one of nine states selected to participate in the Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program, which was initially developed as part of a partnership between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA and the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership. The final competition and the statewide summer program were coordinated by co-directors Dr. Dave Hyland, professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, and Dr. Joseph Morgan, professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, and program manager Katharine Leysath, with Educational Outreach Programs.
“Can you imagine the impact on a middle school student to be told she is receiving specialized training so she can someday be involved in designing and testing software for space exploration?” said Jean Hall, a robotics leader from the Spacebots team from Wichita Falls, Texas. “And then to be given not just a long-term dream, but also the immediate gratification of standing in the Space Center in Houston and watching a code she helped develop actually operate a satellite on the space station? Her ambitions are going to quickly outgrow the boundaries of earth.”
Zero Robotics is a programming competition in which the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station. The competition begins online as teams program the SPHERES to solve a challenge. Finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS following several phases of virtual competition in a simulation environment that mimics the real SPHERES.
Texas A&M faculty, staff and aerospace engineering students met astronaut Mike Fossum at the Zero Robotics final competition in Houston. From left are Sualeh Khurshid, Dr. David Hyland, Mauricio Coen, Deneen Ernst, Fossum, Katharine Leysath, Justin Ruiz and Dr. Johannes Strobel.