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NASA challenges kids to design a moon-digging robot

NASA is challenging students in the U.S. to design a moon-digging robot.

The Lunabotics Junior Contest comes as the space agency edges toward the launch of its first Artemis mission that will fly a spacecraft around the moon ahead of a crewed landing in the next few years.

As part of efforts to inspire young people to go into engineering and even assist NASA on future missions, the agency hopes the contest will spark some uniquely creative ideas among the nation’s youth.

The contest is being held in collaboration with Future Engineers and asks K-12 students to dream up a robot capable of digging and moving lunar soil, also known as regolith.

NASA says that regolith could one day be used to make lunar concrete for buildings to accommodate astronauts on extended moon missions.

“Extracting resources in deep space will require innovation and creativity, and students are some of the most creative thinkers,” Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement, said in a release. “The next generation always brings new perspectives, inventive ideas, and a sense of optimism to the challenges NASA puts in front of them. I’m really looking forward to seeing the designs they submit to Lunabotics Junior.”

Students entering the contest aren’t expected to build their robots. Instead, they’re asked to describe how the robot will be able to dig and move the lunar regolith. The wannabe engineers will also have to explain how the design and operation of the robot will deal with potentially troublesome lunar dust that can drift around and attach to surfaces when regolith is disturbed.

Those keen to enter the contest can do so individually. Alternatively, teachers can turn it into a class project and enter a group of students together. Entries will be split into two categories — grades K-5 and grades 6-12.

Ten semifinalists will receive a Lunabotics Junior prize pack and four national finalists from each category will win a virtual session with a NASA expert.

The national winner from each category will get to participate in a virtual chat for their class with Janet Petro, director of the Kennedy Space Center.

The closing date for the Lunabotics Junior Contest is January 25, 2022.

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