The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

Sixth Graders Win NASA TechRise Student Challenge

Fay School received notification this month that a team of Fay sixth graders is one of 60 winning teams in the second NASA Future Engineers TechRise Student Challenge. 

The NASA Future Engineers TechRise Student Challenge is a nationwide contest that invites teams of sixth to 12th-grade students at American public, private, or charter schools to design, build, and launch science and technology experiments on high-altitude balloon flights during the upcoming school year. The challenge offers hands-on insight into the design and test process used by NASA-supported researchers. It aims to inspire a deeper understanding of Earth’s atmosphere, surface features, and climate; space exploration; coding; electronics; and the value of test data. 

This year, winning teams include about 500 students representing 38 states and territories. A full list of winning teams is available on the TechRise website. Each team will receive $1,500 to build their experiment and an assigned spot to test it on one of two NASA-sponsored high-altitude balloon flights scheduled for this summer. Winning proposals address a wide variety of science and technology challenges, including evaluating the effects of climate change; protecting humans, electronics, and various materials against radiation; testing machine learning and computing techniques for space technology; and supporting human health on long-duration space missions.

Earlier this fall, Fay’s sixth graders worked in small groups to brainstorm an experiment and submit a TechRise proposal. One of these teams - composed of Raymond R. (Concord), Ellie K. (Southborough), Ella Z. (Wellesley), and Taehee K. (Southborough) - was selected to move forward. Their proposal, entitled "Measuring temperature, pressure and humidity," proposes an experiment to learn more about what living organisms would need to survive in space. Their plan is to design a machine to measure temperature, pressure and humidity in space that will fit in a box that is 4”x4”x8” and that will use environmental sensors and data capturers to record air quality and temperature, among other data points.

In the coming weeks, the Fay team will meet with advisors from Future Engineers and will work through the NASA TechRise Introductory Learning Modules to develop the foundational skills needed to build a payload. Throughout the spring, the Fay team will meet weekly with mentors from the NASA TechRise engineering team regarding the design, development, and build of their experiment. The students will be building their payload in Fay’s new Center for Creativity & Design, a 7,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art space that is the hub of the School’s Creativity and Design Program.

Student experiments will be tested via a high-altitude balloon flight from one of two commercial providers: Aerostar of Sioux Falls, South Dakota or World View based in Tucson, Arizona. On flight day, the payloads will gather data as the balloons launch and ascend to an altitude of approximately 70,000 feet, where they will float for at least four hours. During flight, they will be exposed to the unique thermal and atmospheric environment of the stratosphere, providing conditions for student experiments that cannot be replicated in ground-based tests. The high-altitude balloons will simultaneously allow payloads to observe the surface below them and collect data on land features such as vegetation, crops, urban centers, and bodies of water. 

“I’m thrilled for our students to see how their classroom learning is relevant in the real world,” says Grace Crowell, Fay’s sixth grade science teacher and the students’ project mentor. “Even as we study space and research new exploration, the chance to participate in the process can feel foreign. Students have the most creative ideas, and this is a unique opportunity for them to show adults that they are capable of generating change and progress at such a high level.”

Led by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and administered by Future Engineers, TechRise offers students both hands-on experience with the payload build and flight test process, as well as the chance to contribute to NASA’s mission of exploring space and studying our planet. The Flight Opportunities program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), rapidly demonstrates technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce.

A group of approximately 275 volunteer judges with expertise in engineering, space, and Earth science reviewed entries and selected winners from across the nation. Proposal evaluation criteria included the originality of their experiment idea, its impact on education and/or society, feasibility to build the experiment in the allotted timeframe and budget, as well as the quality of the build plan. Judging was designed to encourage equitable student participation and geographic representation, and scoring included additional points for Title I eligible schools.

TechRise is one of many NASA prizes and challenges that offer opportunities to participate in America’s space program. The latest NASA TechRise Student Challenge news and updates on the student teams’ progress will be available on the TechRise website. The NASA Tournament Lab, part of STMD's Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program, supports TechRise.

"NASA’s missions of tomorrow are sparked by the accomplishments of the Artemis Generation today in classrooms across America,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Through opportunities like the TechRise Student Challenge, young people are deepening their passion in science and technology, preparing to be the future innovators and pioneers who help humanity soar to new heights and unlock more secrets of the universe.” (NASA Press Release, 2023
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