NMHS makes it to semi-finals of StellarXplorers National Space Design Comp.

MEDFORD, Ore.- A team from North Medford High School has made it to the semi-finals of the StellarXplorers National Space Design Competition.

The StellarXplorers’ website says the competition challenges teams of students, from 6th to 12th grade, to put their skills to the test in all-things space design.

North Medford High’s Astronomy Teacher and Planetarium Director Robert Black says when he introduced the competition to the school three years ago, he was looking for a cool new opportunity for his students.

“It’s a tough competition,” Black said, “It’ll be hard to be in the top ten, but we’re in the game, so that’s the most important thing”.

North Medford High’s “Space Tornado” team meets every Tuesday after school to work on complex problems on things like orbit determination, satellite design, and launch operations scenarios. The competition goes through a series of rounds, starting with 425 teams from across the nation. According to the team, they just finished stage three of the preliminary rounds.

“The most recent and the most important is our rocketry part of the competition,” NMHS Senior Tanner James said, “we’re having to take rockets that we’re given, look at what their limitations are, and see how we can best optimize those rockets to make our mission be as successful as possible”.

StellarXplorers’ judges take the scores from the three qualifying rounds and adds them together. Then, the top 30% of teams will move on to the semi-finals, including North Medford High. Team members say this next challenge will be their most difficult yet.

“Between these three different components of the competition with orbits, satellite construction and rocket construction, they all kind of play a key role together as we get towards our final problem,” James said.

“For the other three rounds, we were allotted 6 hours to do the scenario and a quiz,” NMHS Senior and Team Leader James Hillard told NBC5, “For this semi-final round, it’s basically two of those rounds combined. So twice the work plus a quiz in that same six-hour time”.

The top ten teams from the semi-finals will then travel to Denver to finish the competition at Space Force Headquarters. For some of these students, the pressure is on, as this is their second time making it to the semi-finals.

“I was here last year. I’m one of the other veterans besides Tanner,” NMHS Senior Preston Garton said, “But we just… We just didn’t do well. We’re seniors so this is, like, our last chance”.

North Medford High is also relatively new to the competition, but that doesn’t scare them off.

“A lot of these teams have been competing for a lot long than we have, though,” James said, “We’re very green as far as the competition’s concerned, but being a public school and being relatively new to the program as a whole that’s… I think that’s super cool”.

Black says he is very confident of the team he’s been working with. Hillard told NBC5 the team got a perfect score for their second round.

“There’s two things that this team has done better than any other previous teams and one is they’re really kind to each other,” Black said, “That’s important when you’re trying to solve high level problems and the second thing is they haven’t missed a quiz question all year”.

The team agrees that it’s not just about the journey of the competition but also the friendships they’ve made along the way.

“I’ve, you know, met new people, made new friends,” NMHS Senior Gilberto Loa said.

“I think just the ability to work well with each other has been our biggest accomplishment, because it doesn’t really matter how far we get into this, but working well with other people is a skill that’s helpful throughout your entire life,” NMHS Senior Micah Nguyen said.

It is clear Black has a lot of pride for his students.

“I think all of these kids are going to go on and do something in science or engineering, and that’s my job,” Black said.

Whether they make it to the finals or not, it looks like all these students have bright futures in science.

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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