A team of 19 engineering students from Escambia High School in Florida won the Neil Armstrong Best Design Award in the high school division for a Mars rover prototype they created as part of their school’s capstone project. Every year, the students submit their design to the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in competition with teams from high schools across the world. This year, the Escambia team beat designs from 110 teams in 27 U.S. states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

“(The award is) acknowledging that ‘hey, our design, it was actually a good idea and it was going to legitimately work. We’re so proud. This was going to be a really good year for Escambia,” Emily Geiger, one of the team members, told the Pensacola News Journal

Rovers are robotic devices designed to explore and collect images and data from extraterrestrial planets. To date, NASA has sent five rovers to Mars: the Sojourner, the Spirit, the Opportunity, the Curiosity, and the Perseverance. While real-life Mars rovers are remote-controlled, the students were tasked with designing something a bit different. According to the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge, student rovers must be powered by humans, and carry two students — a girl and boy — over a half-mile obstacle course that simulates “extraterrestrial terrain of craters, boulders, ridges, inclines, crevasses and depressions.” Teams are judged by how long it takes them to both build their rovers and complete the course.

The competition typically includes a time-trial race at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. However, the COVID19 pandemic forced organizers to move the competition online. Rather than race their rovers in person, participants sent their design plans to judges electronically and were interviewed virtually.

The Escambia High School team told the Pensacola News Journal that they focused on making their rover as light as possible. The rover was made from vacuum-sealed carbon fiber, with tires constructed of urethane treads made from a silicone mold. They used a 3-D printer to make the rover’s parts.

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