Students and mentors of Tehachapi High School's FIRST robotics team pose proudly with their creation, named Cyber Tux. Photo courtesy Cecilia Cordova. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center has sponsored several high school robotics teams, beginning with the Lancaster High School team in 2000. These teams participate in competitions organized by the non-profit FIRST organization - "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" - with the goal of increasing student interest in mathematics, science and technology-based career fields.
The teams are given six weeks to design and construct a working robot from basic materials provided in a kit from FIRST. The teams and their robots then perform a specific task dictated by FIRST during the regional and national competitions. This year's challenge, dubbed "Overdrive," requires the robots to circle a racetrack with the winner making the most circuits. The teams have the opportunity to earn extra points by grabbing one of four 40-inch balls six feet above the ground and moving the balls over aerial hurdles.
NASA Dryden is again co-sponsoring teams from Lancaster and Tehachapi high schools during the 2008 robotics' season. This is Lancaster's ninth year of competing, while Tehachapi began their involvement a year later.
Cecilia Cordova, Dryden's informal education officer, is the center's representative for NASA's FIRST robotics program. Cordova coordinates the partnerships between NASA and schools in Southern California and Arizona.
The Lancaster High Eagles team and their robot "The Phantom" will compete in two regional competitions, one in San Diego March 6 - 8 and a second in Los Angeles March 20 - 22. Dryden engineer Dave Voracek mentors the team; his son Brad is a third-year team member.
A group of NASA Dryden employees and retirees advised the Tehachapi Cyber Penguins team during building of their "Cyber Tux" robot. They were also scheduled to compete in San Diego and again in Las Vegas March 27-29.
This year marks the first involvement in the FIRST robotics competition for Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Calif., after receiving a NASA start-up grant. The school's Robolopes team and their robot "Sisyphus" are entered in the regional competition in Los Angeles March 20-22.
Several other high schools in the area have robotics programs or teams, but not all are entered in the FIRST competition.
Teams across the nation are also invited to build a Web site to showcase their project. Dryden employees will judge the teams' Web sites at the Las Vegas regional competition. in March.
NASA Dryden also sponsors teams in two other FIRST competition categories, the Lego League and the FIRST Tech Challenge. The center sponsors middle school Lego League teams at Tierra Bonita Elementary School and Cole Middle School, both in Lancaster. Voracek and Dryden engineer Joe Pahle also mentor teams of individual high school students, the Garagebots and the PHI team in the FIRST tech challenge. NASA Dryden purchased two VEX robotics kits for these competitive teams.
NASA has partnered with FIRST for more than seven years under NASA's Robotics Alliance project. The project is designed to expand the national resource of experienced, talented robotics experts who could help develop future robotics systems needed by NASA and to support national investment in the robotics market. The FIRST robotics competitions are intended to inspire the next generation to become more involved with mathematics, science and technology, and also facilitate robotics curriculum enhancements at all educational levels and develop a national clearinghouse for robotics education and career resources.