Kathy Barnstorff
757-864-9886, 344-8511 (mobile)

Audrey Staples
National Institute of Aerospace
(757) 325-6981
RELEASE : 09-035
09-035: Virginia Students Win First NASA Virtual Exploration Challenge

HAMPTON, Va. – A team of high school and college students entered a virtual world to win a NASA challenge.

Students from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., collaborated with teenagers from Grassfield High School Technology Academy in Chesapeake, Va., to capture the first ever Virtual Exploration Sustainability Challenge or VESC, sponsored by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) and NASA's Langley Research Center, both in Hampton, Va., and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The modeling and simulation contest pairs undergraduate engineering students with high school students. The teams work together in an online virtual environment to solve a NASA-inspired design project. This year's contest was based on a real engineering challenge - how to maintain and upgrade the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

Students were to build a working computer model of the Hubble and develop an efficient Extra Vehicular Activity or space walk to be tested using the same program. Through interactions within a 3-dimensional virtual world, teams collaborated with each other, mentors and NASA and NIA researchers to create these models.

"Success in the 21st Century requires self-directed learning and VESC '09 is a 'textbook' example of this," said Thomas Pinelli, deputy manager of the MODSIM Initiative at NASA Langley. "It requires participants to responsibly manage and evaluate their learning, to collaborate with others, to develop multiple strategies to achieve goals and to transfer conceptual knowledge to new situations."

As their prize for winning the virtual exploration competition, students will receive a trip to the Goddard Space Flight Center. The team will present its solution to members of the Hubble servicing team on May 14. If the space shuttle Atlantis launches on schedule Monday, May 11, it's expected to reach Hubble the same day the students are at Goddard. Team members will have the chance to interact with NASA experts who are working on the mission and see how their model aligns with NASA’s real-life repair mission.

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