NASA’s Upcoming Teen Astronauts

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NASA has been breaking barriers to achieve the seemingly impossible for more than 50 years and continues to reach new heights and reveal the unknown. This lifelong pursuit has sparked a passion within a multitude of kids to chase after the secrets of space that are yet to be discovered- one small step at a time- starting with the Student Astronaut Challenge geared towards getting the future generation equipped for the intense pressures of the aerospace industry. Teams of students ranging from 6th grade to 12th grade nationwide are participating in the annual Student Astronaut Challenge, an aero-space based competition sponsored by Florida State University with special aid from NASA and the Kennedy Space Center. The competition, centered on absurd simulations, is designed to replicate the wild experiences astronauts undergo. Each year students come to compete from as far as the south of Miami to as far as the north of Georgia. Mr. Brockman, the supervisor of the Science Competitors Club, encouraged these student astronauts to represent Strawberry Crest High School in the high school division:

-Sakar Karki (12th Grade) “The Flight Engineer”, 

-Emmanuel Matthew (11th Grade) “The Pilot”, 

-Reuben Abraham (11th Grade) “The Mission Commander”, 

-Hannah Nixon (11th Grade) “The Mission Director”, 

-Allison Barfield (11th Grade) “Mission Control” 

-Summer Farlow (9th Grade) “Mission Control”

The Student Astronaut Challenge is compromised of The Space Flight Stimulation Challenge, The Landing Simulation Challenge, The Aerospace Engineering Challenge, and The Space Science Design Challenge. 

“Event One is a hands-on challenge where students are provided with an aerospace-related problem. Working as two teams – mission control and Skylab flight crew – they are required to use teamwork and collaboration to solve a series of challenges and reach a solution.  

Event Two is a physical design challenge to solve a specific space-related issue. Teams submit a typed design proposal due approximately 2 weeks before the finals competition and present their solution, including a prototype model, to a team of judges during the competition.

Event Three consists of three rounds (including a semi-final and final) where teams are required to perform the pre-flight operation, launch, orbit, and landing of the Space Shuttle flight simulator and the operation and responsibilities of the mission control team. During the semi-final and final rounds, students are provided with in-flight emergencies that must be managed to safely complete their mission.    

Event Four consists of two rounds (including run-offs and finals) where team members work in pairs to perform one of three types of landings of the Space Shuttle Enterprise flight simulator and the operation and responsibilities of the mission control team.” (https://studentastronautchallenge.com/)

Stumbling upon this club and eventually thrown together to form a team, their interest in space was only heightened as they began to partake on this new adventure. A wealth of complex information overloaded with statistics, schematics of inner workings, intricate layouts of various systems, daunting scenarios and hours of practice came with learning the ropes. These extensive preparations occurred for a span of 7 months from August until February. Behind the scenes, these 6 members worked endlessly to achieve their goals of placing in the competition. Alison Barfield recounts, “preparing for the simulation mainly at club meetings of almost an hour every week. The landing and prototype we mainly practiced for on our own time.” As countless days passed by of this heavy training, tensions rose as the day that was well anticipated for approached. Hannah Nixon says “We overcame any stress we had by working as a team. We talked through everything that came up and divided and conquered all the problems we had. We discussed what each of us was comfortable with and looked to see what we all knew. The feedback Mr. Brockman and the judges gave us bettered our operations. Our method of splitting things up and keeping everyone on the same page impressed the judges.” In fact, it impressed the judges so much so that Mr. Brockman and his fellow student astronauts returned back home with beaming smiles as they proudly announced their 4th Place in the Space Flight Stimulation Challenge and 7th Place overall out of 15 teams. In addition, the Mission Control branch, Hannah Nixon, Allison Barfield, and Summer Farlow won the Eugene “Gene” Kranz Mission Control Award due to their resilient spirit and teamwork that was exemplified.

For those whose curiosity have been ignited, Reuben Abraham advises that “Future students who will partake in the competition should be quick learners and thinkers, have an interest in science and space, and be willing to do everything they can for the team.” Hannah Nixon adds that they should be prepared to undergo mayhem. With lots of work and preparation comes success and of course fun… in most cases. Other times it may turn out not to be that much fun according to Allison Barfield who suggests that one should definitely not wait until the night before the competition to read about schematics because that did not go too well for her… 

As we look to the future, with advances in space exploration and space travel becoming a reality, the future of aerospace remains in the hands of the future generations to come. When a passion blossoms, a purpose develops and what was once a figment of our imagination can turn into one’s profession. The possibilities are endless. The future is now. 

And the sky is the limit……

Oh, wait…

We’ve surpassed that.