Rovers bring schoolchildren over
The next generation of astronauts and engineers converged on UH Saturday as children from around the country gathered for the ninth annual Mars Rover Celebration.
The competition, aimed at elementary and middle school kids, tasks students with creating a mission to Mars.
“If you go in there and look around, you’re looking at Cougars 10 years from now,” physics professor Edgar Bering said. “As far as we have contacts, every student who participated in the first Mars Rover Celebration has gone to college.”
Bering is the sole remaining member of the committee that created the Mars Rover Celebration nine years ago. He said that one of the main goals of the event is to promote scientific literacy and interest among youth.
He credits the competition as the kick-in-the-pants that motivates many participants to pursue careers in engineering later in life.
For the competition, students must plan an expedition, decide upon a mission goal and build a concept model rover to be used for the trip to the red planet.
The team presents its plan to judges at the competition, who select winners based on how well the students have prepared for the trip.
Six hundred and twenty students participated in the event this year, and the competition included entrants from Texas, Massachusetts, California, Vermont and Colorado.
“Kids experience what it’s like to be a part of a research and education institution like UH, which has strong ties to NASA,” Ioannis Konstantinidis, a research development officer with the competition, said. “It’s never too early to get them excited about engineering problems that capture the imagination.”
Many students in the competition were eager to be participants, some going so far as to don goggles and lab coats or alien costumes. They huddled around poster boards and model rovers, gesturing excitedly as they explained their ideas to the judges.
“We learned a lot about Mars and the rover and space,”said Kaitlyn Blechstock, a fifth grader from Valley Ranch Elementary in Border, Texas, said. “Most of it we don’t call work, we just call it fun.”