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Mission to the moon: MNTC students create app for NASA challenge

Written by Sharla Bardin for 19th St. Magazine, April 2021  

 

A team of local students recently took on an out-of-this-world task. The group from Moore Norman Technology Center competed in NASA’s App Development Challenge and was one of 10 teams in the nation to present their app in a virtual event in February.

The App Development Challenge is a coding challenge that gives students the opportunity to aid NASA in future mission planning activities, including the Artemis program to land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the moon by 2024, according to information from NASA.

Lauren Smith served as the team leader and outreach manager for the group, who are all seniors from high schools in Moore and Norman. Smith said the experience was a great lesson in camaraderie, communication and networking with others. And it was cool to work with NASA.

“Everybody wants the opportunity to work with NASA once in their lifetime,” said Smith, who is a senior at Moore High School.

Teams in the challenge developed an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the moon. Students utilized lunar terrain data to create a visualization that displays essential information for navigation and communication, according to information from NASA.

During the competition, teams posted videos online of their app for consideration by NASA. Teams were then selected to present their app in an interview with engineers and scientists working with NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation team. From there, the top 10 teams were chosen for the virtual event.

Smith said the team started working on the app last fall. The task proved even more of a challenge given that the students were in different class sessions or taking virtual classes due to COVID-19 precautions. “We used a lot of online and virtual communication” to work on the project, she said.

Smith said a highlight of the effort was seeing how her teammates’ talents complemented each other.

“We were really able to see how different people had different skill sets and how those could blend together to create a team.”

Smith said the team also was grateful for the guidance and encouragement from their instructor, Rachel Hurt, programming and software development instructor at the center.

Hurt said she was thrilled to see her students’ accomplishments during the challenge and the knowledge they gained, including enhancing their communication and presentation skills.

“I am always in awe of what my students achieve when they pull together and work to succeed,” Hurt said, in an email response.

Hurt said this is her second group of students to participate in NASA’s App Development Challenge.  

“Moore Norman Technology Center is all about providing hands-on training, and I felt like this would be a great way to apply what they are learning in my classroom to actual real-life.”

Smith said the experience has helped her learn more about programming, collaborating with others and networking with industry professionals. After high school, she plans to attend the University of Central Oklahoma and major in computer science.

She said the field matches her interests, including the ability to create and contribute to others.
“I’ve always liked the idea that programming allows me to program something that can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Hurt said she’s impressed with the team and what they achieved during the challenge and the skills they can use going forward.

“These high school seniors took the knowledge of programming they’ve learned and used it in a real-life scenario,” Hurt said. “I am extremely proud of these students, and I am extremely proud to be part of an organization that does so much to promote student success.”