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Surrey high school students first to represent Canada at NASA competition

Princess Margaret Secondary’s rover team returns from international challenge

A group of Surrey students have returned with accolades after being the first Canadian group to participate in a global NASA rover-building competition.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Human Exploration Rover Challenge took off last month, with 72 teams from around the world — including one from Princess Margaret Secondary in Surrey — competing.

Students designed, built and drove a human-powered rover that landed them as the first Canadian team to enter the esteemed competition that took place in Huntsville, Alabama this year from April 19 to 20. The challenge was open to high school, college and university students.

Vice-principal Pam Sandhu “couldn’t be more proud of our students.”

“Not only were they representing our school and city, but to be the first team to ever represent Canada at this global competition was truly special,” she said in a Surrey Schools release.

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Named LeoCRAFT, the students’ rover competed two days, but not without its challenges.

After achieving the lucky ranking of number 13 on the first day, an issue arose that put the fate of the second competition day in question.

“We thought that was it,” teacher sponsor Jag Uppal said, explaining the mood after the team’s rover suffered a broken wheel.

However, with the help of an engineer from NASA, a new wheel was made out of plywood that proved successful. In the second competition, the Princess Margaret team even beat their first day’s score by six minutes.

“Many teams weren’t even able to compete on the second day due to damaged rovers,” Sandhu said.

The teens may not have landed on the podium, but the Surrey team walked away with the STEM Engagement Award for their outreach work that involved visiting elementary schools, setting up information booths and making the media rounds.

“They connected with so many younger kids in the community who were fascinated by what they were doing, and we heard from so many about how they wanted to do the same when they got to high school,” Sandhu explained.

Uppal described his pride in the students, saying they “nailed it” at every stage of the competition, which he will cherish.

A director from NASA took the time to speak with the Surrey students, adding to the joyous experience, the vice-principal said.

“He talked with us about how important Canada has been throughout the history of space exploration and how special it was for a Canadian team to finally make it down,” she said.

“We had a lot of questions asking about our school, if we were a university, an IB program or a private school, and they were all surprised to find out we were a public high school.”