Student Features

Students and Teachers Take the ETO Challenge
Image of the Personal Satellite Assistant
Students and teachers took the challenge -- the ETO challenge. NASA's Earth to Orbit engineering design challenge involved students from across the U.S. This year's new challenge was based on the Personal Satellite Assistant (PSA). This new robot looks like something out of the Star Wars movies. Students had to do what NASA engineers must do -- solve problems.

Image to right: The PSA is designed to move about the Space Station and help astronauts. Credit: NASA

This challenge was created by two NASA centers. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, worked on this project. Teachers applied online to field test this new challenge.

The PSA is being developed at the Ames Research Center. It is a small, round robot that will help astronauts on the International Space Station. It will be self-propelled, so it will move about the Space Station by itself using small fans.

Catelyn Dossett and Shannon Browning talk with Pete Rodriguez about their PSA project
Image to left: Catelyn Dossett, left, and Shannon Browning, from Palmer, AK, talk with Pete Rodriguez about their PSA project. Their school has a Web site with what they learn in the ETO challenge. Credit: NASA

Twenty-eight teachers, representing 16 states, were selected (there were over 60 that applied) and tested the PSA Challenge with their students. Students built a simulator with similar characteristics as the PSA. The simulator is a wooden disk that sits on a bearing that is almost frictionless. On the disk sit two small fans that are run on batteries. There is also a set of switches to control the fans. When the fan is turned on, the motion of the disk simulates the motion of an object in space. The microgravity environment of space is very different from that on Earth. Because there is little gravity in space, objects will move differently. The environment has little friction. On Earth, we know that friction causes objects to slow down and stop moving. Imagine how objects move when there is little friction.
Julio C. Villanueva works with his simulator
Image to right: This simulator disk was made by Julio Villanueva and his team from El Paso, TX. Credit: NASA

First, students built their simulators. Then they conducted Explorations and Missions in small groups. Explorations are experiments. Missions are more like games. Students learned about Newton's Laws of Motion in this challenge. When they completed their tasks, the groups made posters or presentations about what they had learned.

Each teacher who took the challenge brought two students to Marshall Space Flight Center to share what they had learned. NASA will use this information from students and their teachers to improve the challenge, if necessary. Then, any teacher will be able to use this challenge with students.
Morgan Naum stands beside her display of the Laws of Motion
Image to left: Morgan Naum of Syracuse, NY, stands beside her display of the Laws of Motion. Credit: NASA

Students came from nearby states such as Tennessee and as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. While at Marshall, students and teachers toured many areas of the NASA center. They also went to the nearby U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which is the home of Space Camp.

So what did the students think about the PSA Challenge? Katie Paulus from Lincoln, Nebraska, thinks that the PSA will be helpful to astronauts. Some students think that it would be handy to have their own PSAs. Eighth-graders Scott Lee and Nick Davis of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, know what they would like to do in the future now. Scott is interested in being an engineer. Nick would like to be an architect.

Jordan Nelson and his partner Grant Wynne are in ninth grade in Fordyce, Arkansas. They found that moving the batteries closer to the center of the disk gave them better results. Monanesa Mays and Tomeka Holder are in ninth grade in Livingston, Alabama. Their biology class took the PSA Challenge. Monanesa said, "I like challenges. That is why I like [the PSA Challenge], because it was really difficult."

Tiffany Kasoga and Iesha Leota talk about their project to Education Specialist Julie Clift
Image to right: Tiffany Kasoga and Iesha Leota explain their project to Education Specialist Julie Clift. Credit: NASA

Iesha-Vira Leota and Tiffany Kasoga came from Kapolei, Hawaii. At their school, seventh- and eighth-graders worked together. Iesha summed up her learning with an analogy about the PSA. "If there were no teachers, how would the students learn? And if there were no students, who would the teachers teach? Without the Propulsion System, how would the PSA move? Each system in the PSA played an important role because without one component, the simulator wouldn't function properly."
Cartoon futuristic character and spaceship

Star Wars, Star Trek and NASA
Find out more about the PSA.
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