The students of Oaklands Community College in Edenderry have once again made their school and town proud in the 'Student Astronaut Challenge' in Florida. They travelled to the Kennedy Space Centre in Orlando, Florida last week, to compete in the challenge. They are only the second International team ever to do so, following in the steps of the previous team from Oaklands.
They had a lot to live up to as the last team from the school won the lab challenge, came second in the simulator challenge and came fourth overall. This year's team consisted of Odhran Cully, Diarmuid Egan, Kacper Miniszewski, Stephen Molloy, Maggie O’Connell and Kai Reilly, and their teacher Ms Laura Guinan.
Their first involvement was in the engineering challenge last Thursday. "They had 45 minutes to solve a number of questions on electrical power systems and solar arrays on the International Space Station. They then had to present their solutions to NASA engineers. They made a great account of themselves," Ms Guinan told the Offaly Express.
The students then went onto the lab challenge where they had to design an original lab experiment proposal that addressed the problem of growing food on Mars. "This was to be submitted a week before the competition and then the students had to present their experiment to the panel of NASA scientists. The experiment they proposed was 'The Removal of Harmful Perchlorate Salts From Martian Regolith.' Again, the students presented excellently and the judges were very impressed," Laura Guinan said.
On Friday last, they participated in the Simulator Challenge where they virtually launched the space shuttle into orbit, orbited the Earth and returned to Space Station. "They all performed very well with Commander Stephen Molloy landing the shuttle safely on the runway. He was ably assisted in the simulator by pilot Odhran Cully and Flight Engineer Kai Reilly from the school. Throughout the challenge they kept contact with Kacper Miniszewski and Maggie O’Connell in Mission Control who kept them up to date with telemetry checks and other important information," Ms Guinan explained.
"Last Friday afternoon saw Kacper and Maggie participate in the Landing Challenge. Both landed the shuttle safely on the runway. Later that day, the places for the semi-finals were announced. The disappointment of not making the simulator semi-finals was soon overshadowed by the announcement that they had reached the final of the Landing Challenge. This took place early Saturday morning, and again Kacper and Maggie made a great team, landing the shuttle safely on the runway despite the extra challenge of a night landing thrown into the final. Oaklands were announced as winners of the landing challenge, came second in the lab presentation by the tightest of margins and were the highest scoring guest competitior," Ms Guinan told us.
Oaklands Community College were also announced as third place overall. "This was a super achievement and the management and staff of Oaklands are very proud of the team's achievements. I was delighted with the teams overall performance and how they carried themselves in America over the week. They got to explore the Kennedy Space Centre, did a bus tour and got to see the Atlantis Shuttle, which was the highlight of the trip," their teacher said.
Oaklands would like to thank their sponsors who helped make this trip possible, in particular their main sponsor Bord na Mona. "We would also like to thank Offaly County Council, AES Tullamore, Lacon Pac Systems Rochfortbridge, Midland Books Tullamore, Kaideen and Co Baltinglass and AIB Edenderry. All support was greatly appreciated and we hope we did you proud," Ms Guinan concluded.
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