‘Rock Rovers’ shoot­ing for the stars with NASA

The Advance of Bucks County - - NEWTOWN AREA - By Cary Beavers

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.

Pho­tos by Cary Beavers

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...

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