Cleveland County students participate in NASA challenge

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Jeff Elkins, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·3 min read
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Feb. 16—A group of Moore Norman Technology Center students was selected as one of 10 teams from across the nation to participate in a virtual event for NASA's App Development Challenge.

The six high school seniors from Norman High School, Norman North High School and Moore High School spent the fall developing an app to aid NASA's Space Communications and Navigation [SCaN] team, which handles the programs communications technology. Today, the team will showcase their app to NASA.

According to the NASA website, the SCaN challenge was created to give students an opportunity to assist in the Artemis Generation plan to land American astronauts, including the first woman, on the Moon by 2024. Students were challenged to identify potential solutions for mapping the South Pole region of the Moon using NASA data.

The administration could potentially use the app to analyze the topography of the lunar South Pole to identify safe routes and landing locations.

Rachel Hurt, programming and software development instructor at MNTC, said the students are excited to take part in the event this week and receive feedback from NASA.

"It's an event that's going to be streamed live on Youtube and they're going to get a lot of opportunities to work with NASA engineers to keep developing their app further," Hurt said.

Moore High School Senior Rachel Smith is the team leader and social media and outreach manager for the team. She said preparation and creation of the app required frequent communication among members, which was challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith said the most challenging part of the project was navigating how to collaborate in a virtual environment.

"We used Discord on occasion and I would join the afternoon classes on Zoom and talk to my teammates and also used Doodle polls to see what everybody's availability was, because not only are we in different class hours, but a lot of my teammates have jobs as well," Smith said.

All of the groups were provided the same rubric, prompt and objective to build a visualization of the lunar South Pole.

"We were given a spreadsheet of all the different coordinates and data for the spots they wanted us to generate within our visualization," Smith said. "Everything was given alongside some textures to help [NASA] build the terrain."

Smith said the team was also tasked with generating a path that is underneath a specific slope that an astronaut could safely take.

"Then, we had to identify and place 10 checkpoints, [so] when certain conditions are met, the astronauts could communicate with earth," Smith said. "We also had to display data using color maps. There were also items we could add for extra points, such as creating a mini map ... "

Smith said the future of the app is up to NASA. However, there is a chance that NASA continues to collaborate with their team.

"We'll see what happens after presentation time and if NASA continues to be in contact with us about wanting to use our app professionally," Smith said. "Even if it's not our project specifically that's selected, this app development challenge will definitely be used in the future from NASA and so it will be cool to stay on the lookout and see if there's a similar team, or [how the] idea of the challenge as a whole helps NASA develop its next mission."

Hurt said she is continuously in awe of what her students achieve as a team.

"As our group finished their interview with NASA's leadership team, I knew that our work helping them sharpen their programming and soft skills was paying off," Hurt said.

Hurt said the students took their knowledge of programming and have successfully applied it to a real-life scenario.

"I am extremely proud of these students, and I am extremely proud to be part of an organization that does so much to promote student success," Hurt said.

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at Jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.