‘Rock Rovers’ shooting for the stars with NASA
NORTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP - They spend long hours working on projects that will one day be used by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). They arrive sometimes as early as 5 a.m. and stay well past dinner. Their work with NASA dominates their thoughts during most every waking moment. And most of them are too young to vote. A special – and smart … very, very smart – team of Council Rock South students is at it again. A year after NASA chose their project for use in its Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, these students, known as the Rock Rovers, are trying to make it two in a row.
During the 2011-12 school year, the WHDP, OHG Ey fivH WHDFhHUV, GHVignHG D 5Hmotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) whose purpose is to inspect NASA vehicles while the astronauts remain inside. After a stressful waiting period, they learned that their design, which was inspired by the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, was one of seven chosen. Schools from around the country participated, making the Rock Rovers’ accomplishment all the more impressive.
“The goal of the Rock Rovers was to come up with something that would’ve saved lives or prevented the tragedy of Columbia,” said Council Rock teacher and Rock Rover leader Fred Bauer, referencing the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entry. The only problem, as Bauer saw it, was that the students were not permitted by NASA to take part in the reward, which an experience in weightlessnHVV viD D 90-PinuWH flighW Rn D UHGuFHG gravity aircraft.
Amazingly, Bauer said, not being able to ride the “Weightless Wonder”, as the airFUDIW iV NnRZn (iW’V DOVR unRIfiFiDOOy UHFognized as the “Vomit Comet”) was okay with them.
“What I admire most is these kids knew from the beginning that they wouldn’t be DEOH WR fly EuW WhHy SuW 110 SHUFHnW inWR iW,” Bauer said. “They knew their names would be on [the project] and that if we won we’d EH flying iW IRU WhHP.”
Fortunately, the crew from Council Rock impressed enough – and the right – NASA people that someone whispered in Bauer’s ear. The message was simple: come up with a new plan and apply to a different contest. The winners of this contest, the real winners, would be the kids, as it ZRuOG EH fivH VWuGHnWV flying WhiV WiPH, nRW teachers.
Armed with this news, the 2012-2013 version of the Rock Rovers (some original Rovers graduated and the program welcomed some new members) got back to work. Their latest plan, which they’ve dubbed, ROV 2.0, was almost as impressive to the NASA judges as the original. Council Rock’s crew did not get selected IRU flighW – yHW. ThHy DUH FuUUHnWOy WhH fiUVW alternate. If a winning team drops out, which happened last year, then up they will go.
This year’s project is called HUNCH, which stands for High school kids Unite with NASA to Create Hardware. They went through the same process, experienced similar angst and received the news that was not quite as good as last year’s.
DHVSiWH WhH inhHUHnWOy VFiHnWifiF DnG mathematic nature of the projects, Bauer took all comers when he put out a request for students interested in the original NASA contest in Sept., 2011. The diversity of students’ talents who walked through his door allowed the team to branch out into different areas.
The crew includes three teams, each with an individual purpose striving toward one goal. There is a research and design team, a web page design team and a marketing team. The separation of powers gave allowed Bauer to take advantage of each student’s particular skill set.
“Not every kid is mechanically inclined,” Bauer said. “This gives those kids an opportunity to be involved. That was very important to me.”
Additionally, NASA and its student competitions go beyond the ROV projects. Several Rock Rover members have entered Humans in Space, a NASA-sponsored art competition that features space-themed paintings. Also, a few Rovers have participated in ZeroRobotics, a competition that focuses on programming satellites on board the International Space Station. According
cording to Bauer, the team is hoping that the knowledge the students glean from the ZeroRobotics competition can be applied to the ROV 2.0, with the ultimate goal being to stabilize the ROV 2.0 on board the zHrR G flLJKW Ln WKH PLGGOH RI WKH FDbLn.
Bauer said the Rock Rovers have taken their experiences on the road and shared it with potential future rovers. They’ve visited 12 elementary and middle schools in the area, teaching younger students about their experiences.
For many of the students involved in the program, Rock Rovers is a continuation of what they’ve loved throughout their young lives. For even more, it’s the beginning of what they hope will one day become their career.
“I’ve always loved building iegos and doing puzzles,” said Council Rock South junior and Rock Rover Brian Butler, whose specialty is research and developPHnW. “, ZDnWHG WR WDNH Py ORvH RI fixLnJ things and put it toward a better cause.”
Senior Jason Sobel said the long hours required to reach the club’s goals didn’t scare him off.
“The hours have become so routine it’s normal,” Sobel said. “It’s been the best experience of my life. Because of this project I’m so much more driven to become an engineer.”
Bauer made sure to praise the other teachers who have helped mold these young, brilliant minds: Joe Warwick, Gerry Fetter, Jeff Warmkessel and Tom Hegedus. Bauer also credited Council Rock School Board for supporting the efforts and pointed out that what they do costs money, much of which comes from fund-raising efforts spearheaded by the Rock Rovers. The program also has corporate sponsors, including Critter Control, Sterline iimousine and Transportation Services and Airline Hydraulics.
For more information on the Rock Rovers and their activities, visit zerogrov.org.
Council Rock senior Jen Platt, left, and junior Kat Johnston show off art work created as part of a NASAsponsored competition.
Part of Council Rock South’s Rock Rovers team, from left, juniors Brian Butler, Eric Quidort and Kat Johnston, seniors Jared Sobel and Tommy Hinchliffe and junior Matthew Piorko proudly display their Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The ROV was...