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High School 'Final Five' Compete for Out-of-This-World Test on Orion
March 26, 2014


Five teams of high school student engineers have made it to the final round in a competition to build and test designs for radiation shields for NASA's new Orion spacecraft.

The competition is part of the Exploration Design Challenge (EDC), developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin, with support from the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA).

Forty-six teams submitted engineering notebooks with proposed radiation shield designs. After review by Orion engineers, as well as NASA and NIA educators, the five teams selected to move on to the next phase of the competition are:

-- Team Titan Shielding Systems of Illinois Math and Science Academy, Aurora, Ill.

This six-member team comes from a residential high school for 650 qualified students from across the state of Illinois.  The school’s charter promotes diversity by requiring that the make-up of the student body parallels the geographic, gender and ethnic representation of the state.  Students are accepted into the program as 10th graders and live in residential halls during the school year.  Team Titan members actually come from the cities of:  Freeport, Yorkville, Highland Park, Crystal Lake, Woodbridge, and Glen Ellyn, IL. 

-- Team ARES of Governor's School for Science and Technology, Hampton, Va.

The Governor’s School is owned and operated by six Peninsula School Divisions (Gloucester, Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg/James City Count and York). Students who attend the Governor’s school go to classes there in the morning and return to their home high school for coursework in the afternoon. This five-member team worked together at school and virtually in order to complete their project on time.

-- Team Aegis of Herriman High School, Herriman, Utah

This two-person team is the smallest of the finalist teams. Herriman High School is a public school serving over 2,100 students from the cities of Herriman, South Jordan, and Riverton. Herriman is south of Salt Lake City and is the site where some Utah homebuilders decided to bring movie magic to life by building an exact replica of the house in the Disney movie “Up” to remind people that “Adventure is out there” – a motto that the team took to heart.

-- Team Erion of Erie High School, Erie, Kan.

This four-member team is the only finalist team made up entirely of girls. Erie High is part of a Unified School District that serves 544 students in pre-K through 12th grades. In a primarily rural area of southeast Kansas, the district serves students who live in a 450-square-mile region around the school.

-- Team LORE of Summit View High School, North Hollywood, Calif.

Summit View, home to this four-person team, uses individualized college-prep curricula for students with significant learning challenges. Small class size and high teacher-to-student ratio enables Summit View students to identify their potential and experience academic success. 


The high school teams were asked to design shielding to protect a radiation detector on Orion as it flies through the Van Allen Belt, a dense radiation field that surrounds the Earth. Because the belt begins 600 miles above Earth, no spacecraft built for humans has flown through it in more than 40 years. Orion, which will travel to an altitude of about 3,600 miles on its first flight test, will spend a significant portion of its four-hour mission exposed to the effects of the Van Allen Belt.

For the next phase of the competition, the final five teams will build prototypes of their designs, which will be tested by engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., before the winning design is chosen. Each team will be assigned a mentor to help them refine their designs and upload them into OLTARIS, the On- Line Tool for the Assessment of Radiation in Space. OLTARIS is a set of integrated simulation tools is used by NASA scientists and engineers to study the effects of space radiation on shielding materials, electronics, and biological systems.

The results of this testing will help the NASA and Lockheed Martin team evaluate the effectiveness of each design.

The winning team will be announced in April, and their design will be launched into space on Orion later this year.  This uncrewed mission, designated Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), will be the first spaceflight test of the capsule that will one day carry astronauts to an asteroid and Mars.

NASA, the NIA and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the Orion program, unveiled the Exploration Design Challenge on March 11, 2013, to give students from kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to play a unique role in the future of human spaceflight. The challenge encourages students in the U.S. and abroad to think and act like scientists and engineers to overcome one of the major hurdles for deep space long-duration exploration: protecting astronauts and hardware from the dangers of space radiation.

More than 125,000 students of all ages, from 81 countries around the world, have taken part in the challenge so far. Although the deadline has passed to take part in the high school competition, students in grades K-12 still have until June 30 to participate in other Exploration Design Challenge activities to have their name flown on board Orion.

To watch the announcement of the EDC high school finalists, visit:


For more information about the Exploration Design Challenge, visit:


The five teams each had a mission patch for the Exploration Design Challenge.
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Engineer Heather McKay and astronaut Rex Walheim
Lockheed Martin engineer Heather McKay and astronaut Rex Walheim announce the five high school teams that were chosen to move on to the next phase of the Exploration Design Challenge.
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Page Last Updated: March 26th, 2014
Page Editor: Mark Garcia