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Robotics Teams Gear Up
03.10.08
 
The NASA Dryden Flight Research Center has sponsored several high school robotics teams, beginning with one at Lancaster High School in 2000. These teams participate in competitions organized by a nonprofit group known as FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - with the goal of increasing student interest in mathematics, science and technology-based career fields.

In the competition, teams are given six weeks to construct a robot from a kit. NASA Dryden is supporting two teams again this robotics season, at Lancaster High and Tehachapi High. This is Lancaster's ninth year of competing. Tehachapi formed a team in 2001.

Dryden engineer Dave Voracek, left, and his son Brad are pictured at the Feb. 15 unveiling of Lancaster High School's entry, Image right: Dryden engineer Dave Voracek, left, and his son Brad are pictured at the Feb. 15 unveiling of Lancaster High School's entry, "The Phantom," in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics competition.. NASA photo / Tom Tschida.

Cecilia Cordova, Dryden's informal education officer, is Dryden's representative for NASA's FIRST robotics program. Through the Science mission directorate, the agency provides funding and other support to FIRST and to participating schools. Cordova coordinates the partnerships between NASA and schools in Southern California and Arizona.

This year's challenge, themed "Overdrive," requires robots to circle a racetrack, with the winner making the most circuits. Extra points may be earned if robots successfully grab one of four 40-inch balls hung six feet off the ground and move the balls over aerial hurdles.

The Lancaster High Eagles team unveiled their robot, "The Phantom," on Feb. 15. The team then headed to two competitions, one in San Diego March 7-8 and another in Los Angeles March 21-22. Dryden engineer Dave Voracek is a mentor for the Eagles; his son Brad is a third-year team member.

Along with NASA research pilot Mark Pestana, Dryden engineers John Kelly and Chris Miller advised the Tehachapi Cyber Penguins while the team built this year's robot. "Cyber Tux" was unveiled Feb. 18. Dryden contractor Arcata Associates and its employees Jamie Baccus, Chuck Barritt, Peter Merfa, Dave Recce, Tim Peters and Donna White co-sponsor the Penguins. Retired Dryden employees Linda Kelly and Tom McMullen also lent a hand to the Tehachapi team, which will compete in San Diego and again in Las Vegas March 27-29.

In addition, teams across the nation are invited to build a Web site to showcase their project.

Dryden employees will judge the teams' work and select the winners in March. NASA employees Lydia Dorfman, Laura Foebel and Ron Ray offer their expertise on the judges' panel, along with Cyndi Mangus, an employee of contractor Science Application International Corp., Joanne Trippiedi of Tybrin, and Arcata's Doug Boston, Mary Whelan and Donna White.

This year marks the first involvement by Antelope Valley High. The school fielded a team, the Robolopes, and received a NASA grant and displayed their robot, "Sisyphus," on Feb. 14.

NASA Dryden also has sponsored middle school FIRST Lego teams at Tierra Bonita Elementary and Cole Middle School, both in Lancaster. Voracek and Dryden engineer Joe Pahle mentored two teams of students on FIRST tech challenge teams that built Dryden-purchased robots from kits. Lego and tech challenge teams are two other FIRST competition categories.

 
 
Beth Hagenauer
Dryden Public Affairs