by Katie Green — published in The Match, March 24, 2016
Early in the school year, Assistant Principal Janel Dorn sent out an email informing all of the faculty about the Student Astronaut Challenge. Math teacher Cathy Hollar decided to assemble a team of students who would enter the competition.
The competition has been ongoing for six years, but this is the first year that it was open to middle schoolers. “I thought some of my students would be interested,” Hollar said. “If they wanted to do [the Student Astronaut Challenge] then they could.”
The challenge requires teams of five members. Hollar sent out an email to parents asking if any of their children would be interested in participating in the competition to form a team. She heard back from eight and eventually found four more in order to form two teams with one alternate each. Teachers Caroline Ganon, Desiree Schell and Andrius Vitkus volunteered to help Hollar to coach the two teams.
The students were given a 200-page flight manual including information about the history of space travel, the setup of rockets and math topics which they had to study. Then they took a regional qualifier test Sept. 4 in Orlando and scores were released about two weeks later. “When I looked at the scores, Pine View wasn’t on the results so I looked under high schools and there was a Pine View High School and a Pine View City High School,” Hollar said. She called the organization to ask if it was possible for the Pine View’s middle-school teams to have been scored as, and compared to, high school teams. It was revealed that there had been a mistake and that Pine View High School placed 14th and Pine View City High School placed 18th in the Central Florida Region. “I didn’t expect to do that well,” fifth-grader and team member Nolan Boucher said, “I was really happy about it.”
Typically only one team would be able to proceed to the state competition from each school but since there were less teams competing than spots available, Pine View was allowed to send both. Seven middle school teams from Florida and five from Georgia attended the challenge Feb. 22 through 24 at John F. Kennedy Space Center.
There are four parts to the challenge itself; the first is the Space Simulator Challenge. Students had to go through a pre-flight check, launch and retrograde. Each team member was assigned a position. The commander, pilot and flight engineer are on the spacecraft while two stay on the ground for mission control.
The second part is the Lab Presentation. A scenario was set up which explained a mission that astronauts might encounter while on the International Space Station. This year’s mission was that NASA is planning to capture a small asteroid using a spacecraft. The students were then given questions that they might face during this scenario. The team had to present their solutions to the questions to a panel of judges.
The third stage is the Engineering Challenge where students are given in-depth math problems related to a possible mission. They then had to explain their solutions to the judges as well as how they reached their answers.
The fourth section to the challenge is the Landing Challenge and the team was graded based on how well they landed the spacecraft.
Team A placed tenth in the Space Simulator Challenge, fifth in the Engineering Challenge, eighth in the Lab Presentation and second in the Landing Challenge. Team B placed eleventh in the Space Simulator Challenge, eighth in the Engineering Challenge, sixth in the Lab Presentation and tenth in the Landing Challenge.
“My favorite part was the shuttle landing because it looked really real, or the free-time because it’s the Kennedy Space Center and you can see everything there.” Boucher said.
Since all the members are in middle school, Pine View is currently participating at that level only. However, one of the alternates on the team, Grace Arents, is in eighth grade and will be eligible to compete within the high school category next year. Pine View plans to form for the 2017 challenge.
by Robyn Schoenberg — published on PVTorch.com, Sept. 15, 2022
Six years later, one of the team members still goes to Pine View — twelfth-grader Nolan Boucher.
“The first time I saw [astronauts], I remember thinking, ‘Wow that looks really cool but also really dangerous, and I don’t want to be an astronaut,’ but working on a team to help them did seem pretty interesting right from the get go,” Boucher said. “So, I think I was more interested in the actual science part of astronomy right from the start.”
Today, he is still interested in astrophysics, and this past summer, he went to the Summer Science Program astrophysics division. In this program, his team was assigned an asteroid to track that hasn’t had its orbit tracked before. This academic year, he is taking the DE Astronomy course.
“[The Student Astronaut Challenge] was a really interesting experience,” Boucher said. “You get to go to the Kennedy Space Center, you get to go see the rockets on display. We were there for the challenge, landing the lander and the simulation, but that only took like an hour or so but we were there for the full day. So, the rest of the day was just getting to see the Kennedy Space Center, which was really cool … I really hope it’s still going on and I recommend kids that are mildly interested in it to check it out, if it is.”
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