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B.C. students only Canadians picked for NASA space rover challenge

Surrey team also among the few high-schoolers competing to build human-powered vehicle
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Princess Margaret Secondary’s LeoCraft rover-building team with the school mascot. (Photo: surreyschools.ca)

A team of science-loving Surrey students has rocketed into a NASA-backed competition to build a rover that could roam on distant planets.

The American space agency’s 2024 Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC) will involve 10 students at Princess Margaret Secondary who submitted a last-minute proposal in September, hours before a deadline.

They’re the only Canadian team among the 72 picked, and one of just a few high schools in the college/university-dominated competition to design and build human-powered rovers.

Next April the team from Newton will travel to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the HERC event, which urges research and development of “new technologies for future mission planning and crewed space missions to other worlds.”

CLICK HERE to watch video of NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

Now that they’ve been chosen for this challenge, the Surrey students must design and build a two-person rover and also raise funds for the stateside trip.

“They’re super excited,” said teacher Jag Uppal, team advisor. “These are some amazing kids, and they found the competition on their own — the website, the proposal, that’s them putting it all together, everything.”

The student team includes Jeevan Sandhu (team lead), Mehul Bhanot (safety officer), Omar Arain, Jasmeet Dhaliwal, Harmeet Sond, Manroop Padda, Parneet Dhesi, Haardik Garg, Victor Gupta and Alex Gupta.

“This is kind of the engineering Olympics for them,” Uppal added. “You have athletes who get to the national and international levels, and for these students this is an international competition, and they’re representing their school internaitonally, on that scale. It’s huge.”

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An example of the kind of human-powered rover built for NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge, or HERC. (Photo: nasa.gov)

Still in the design phase, their LeoCraft rover is named for the school mascot of the Princess Margaret Lions.

Online, the learning journey will be documented on leocraft.ca.

“Imagine a group of high schoolers more ecstatic about rockets and Mars than the latest Netflix series,” the website notes. “We are a diverse group of passionate high school students who share a common love for space, engineering and science.”

Sponsors, donors and scientific guidance is welcomed by these students, who are “armed with dreams as large as the cosmos.”

Uppal said a real challenge is trying to raise $50,000 for the trip to Alabama.

“Half of that will go to transportation costs for the actual competition (a three-day conference), and the other half will be for designing and building and testing this rover,” the teacher explained.

“Right now we’re looking around for equipment that could 3D-print their design, and we could use some help,” Uppal added.

The built rover must be then dismantled and shipped to the HERC event, according to some strict rules.

“I didn’t think that they were going to get accepted because it was all so rushed and last-minute,” Uppal admitted. “They put it together in, like, two days, their proposal. So for them to be accepted was a big deal, and now they realize there’s so much work ahead. But they’re all excited about the challenge.

“I’m excited for them and I’m also scared, just the challenge ahead,” he added with a laugh.

This isn’t the first time Princess Margaret students have been involved in a NASA-backed event. At Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in 2019, some helped a regional team win a contest that involved designing a habitable space colony.



Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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