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Farmingdale High School Students Compete in International Space Station Tournament

Five Farmingdale High School students had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) during the Zero Robotics High School Tournament ISS Finals—held January 28, 2019 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Farmingdale team was one of only fifteen teams to make it to the finals, and competed against schools from across the United States, Europe, Russia, and Australia.

It was the first year that FHS participated in the tournament, now in its 10th year. The idea to enter the competition came from the students themselves, who convinced teacher Lynn DiAndrea to come aboard as their mentor. Their road to the finals began last September, with a series of pre-qualifying coding projects.

This year's game was called ECO-SPHERES, and focused on the removal of space debris. Students were tasked with programming small robots to fly aboard the ISS. The robots, called SPHERES, are roughly the size and shape of a basketball — run on compressed gas, and can be programmed to spin, revolve, hover, and navigate through the air. Students were challenged with the unprecedented task of successfully hooking two satellites together in microgravity. They had to command their satellite to navigate to a disabled satellite, hook onto it, and tow it safety. The goal was to complete the tasks in the shortest amount of time—without colliding with space debris. 

The finals took place on the ISS, where astronauts uploaded the code from each team, and provided a live stream for the students to watch the robots perform their programming. In addition to MIT, teams also assembled to watch the live event at the University of Alicante in Spain and the University of Sydney in Australia.

“I didn’t know what to expect at the finals,” said Ms. DiAndrea. “It was so impressive seeing all the teams get their code run on the SPHERES hardware aboard the ISS. I am really proud that our team got "swings" and "hits" to earn points. Although we didn't win, the experience was worth it.  The students are already preparing for next year!