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Challenge Details

YOUR CHALLENGE IS:

LEARN ABOUT NUCLEAR "BATTERIES" THAT POWER SPACE EXPLORATION AND DREAM UP A NEW SPACE MISSION

ENTRIES DUE: January 17, 2023 | 8:59 PM PT

VOLUNTEER TO JUDGE (18+)
It takes a special kind of power to explore the extremes of our solar system, and NASA wants to hear how it would energize your space exploration dreams! If you could plan a mission in our solar system or beyond, where would you go, and what would you explore?

If you are a K-12 student in the United States, your challenge is first to research Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) and dream up a new RPS-powered mission. RPS is a type of nuclear "battery" that, for over 60 years, has enabled many spacecraft to explore some of the harshest, darkest environments, and farthest reaches of our solar system. Your entry should address both topics below:

  • Mission Destination: Tell us where your RPS-powered mission will go and describe your mission goal(s). Keep in mind that your mission can either flyby, orbit, land, or rove. Refer to the BRAINSTORMING section below for examples of actual RPS-powered missions that NASA has flown.
  • Your Power: NASA missions are also powered by people–from mission planning and development to designing, launching, and operating a spacecraft. Tell us what you think your unique power is and how your special power will help you achieve mission success. Your power could be a skill, personality trait, or other personal strength that is uniquely you. 
Entries will be judged in three grade-level categories: K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. In total, your submission is limited to 200 words. You must also include a title, which will not be included in the word limit.
 
Every student who submits an entry will receive a digital certificate and an invitation to a virtual event with NASA experts, where students will learn about what powers the NASA workforce to dream big and explore. Fifteen national semifinalists in each grade category (45 semifinalists total) will receive a NASA RPS Prize Pack. Three national finalists in each grade category (9 finalists total) will receive a virtual session with a NASA RPS expert. One grand prize winner from each grade category (3 grand prize winners in total) will receive a trip for two to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, to learn about the people and technologies that power NASA missions.
 
Check out the EDUCATION RESOURCES  to learn more about RPS, its use on NASA missions, and ideas to help brainstorm your unique powers. Please do not include your name or any family/friend names in your entry! For all entry requirements, please read the RULESGet writing and good luck!
Challenge Launch Video
play
 
 

DATES / JUDGING CRITERIA / PRIZES

You have to play by the rules to win.

WHO CAN ENTER

Individual K-12 students in U.S. public, private, and home schools (including U.S. territories & possessions and schools operated by the U.S. for the children of American personnel overseas). NO team entries are allowed. Children and students who live in the same household as NASA employees are not eligible to enter. For all eligibility details, please refer to the rules.
Grades K-4
Grades 5-8
Grades 9-12

JUDGING CRITERIA

Grades K-4
Grades 5-8
Grades 9-12
 
25
POINTS
feasibility of where your RPS-powered mission will go and your mission goal/s
25
POINTS
creativity of your selected destination
25
POINTS
how well your special human power will help you achieve your mission goal/s
25
POINTS
quality of the written entry
25
POINTS
feasibility of where your RPS-powered mission will go and your mission goal/s
25
POINTS
creativity of your selected destination
25
POINTS
how well your special human power will help you achieve your mission goal/s
25
POINTS
quality of the written entry
25
POINTS
feasibility of where your RPS-powered mission will go and your mission goal/s
25
POINTS
creativity of your selected destination
25
POINTS
how well your special human power will help you achieve your mission goal/s
25
POINTS
quality of the written entry

HOW TO ENTER

Please review the Challenge Rules and FAQ prior to creating your entry.

Challenge Rules FAQ

TEACHERS
Sign up to register your class and manage entries. We now support Google Classroom too!

STUDENTS
Sign up on your own, or use a code to participate with your class.

STUDENT USING GOOGLE CLASSROOM?
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STUDENT & TEACHER SIGN UP
PROGRAM DATES
Challenge Launch
12
October
Entries Close
17
January
Semifinalists Announced
08
March
Finalists Announced
12
April
Winners Announced
25
April
Challenge Launch
12
October
Entries Close
17
January
Semifinalists Announced
08
March
Finalists Announced
12
April
Winners Announced
25
April

PRIZES

 

Dive Into The Challenge

Lesson Plan Details and Challenge Tips!

1. Links & Lessons

Learn about NASA's RPS

2. Brainstorm & Design

Dream up your RPS mission
Links & Lessons
Brainstorm & Design
Links & Lessons
>
Links & Lessons
Brainstorm & Design

Brainstorm & Design

Get inspired! First, learn about NASA’s past and current RPS-powered missions. Then, think about what type of personal power you have that will contribute to your mission’s success.
Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Flyby

Flybys are used to get a quick glimpse of a planetary object. A flyby spacecraft will travel close to the object it is observing and collect data from it, like when Voyager 1 & 2 flew by Jupiter and discovered its rings and the volcano on its moon lo. Flybys can survey, take pictures, study magnetic fields, and much more! If you choose a flyby, where would you go? Your mission destination could be Jupiter or something further like Pluto or interstellar space. Check out these other amazing flyby missions for inspiration: New Horizons and Pioneer 10 & 11.

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Orbit

Orbiters can study a planet for a long time, map it out, study its moons in detail, and detect changes over time, like weather patterns. A spacecraft that orbits will travel to a distant planet and then decelerate at the right moment to get captured in orbit and observe the planet while orbiting it. The Cassini spacecraft that orbited Saturn for 13 years had a magnetometer, a spectrometer, a fields and particles instrument, and cameras that could see in infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light. Take a look at these other orbit RPS missions for inspiration: Galileo, Ulysses, and Nimbus 3.

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Land

A lander spacecraft makes physical contact with the surface of its destination, stays where it is, and does all its functions in the place where it lands. Landers can also include scientific equipment like cameras, robotic arms, sensors, and much more. Much of what we understand about the moon’s interior comes from the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, a collection of scientific instruments powered by RPS that monitored the environment at each Apollo landing site. Where would your lander’s mission destination be, and what would your mission goals be?

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Rove

A rover has the added value of letting you land somewhere safe and then travel somewhere more interesting! Rovers can move around, explore, collect samples, and transmit data back to Earth. Perseverance and Curiosity are currently exploring and collecting valuable information on Mars. NASA’s Dragonfly mission will consist of a rotorcraft (multi-rotor vehicle) that will fly to dozens of locations on Saturn’s moon, Titian searching for the building blocks of life. Will your mission have a roving spacecraft? If so, think about what kind, where it would go, and what its purpose would be.

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Combo/You Pick

Some missions combine two different types of spacecraft. For example, the Viking Mars Landers each consisted of an orbiter and a lander. The four Viking spacecraft were designed to take high-resolution images of the Martian surface, characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface, and search for evidence of life. If you were to combine two or more mission types, what would they be, and why combine them? If your mission type doesn’t fit into the categories above, no problem! Feel free to dream up anything you want; the possibilities are limitless.

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Dark

No light, no problem! RPS does not need light to function. Because of this, it can be used to travel to places like Saturn, Pluto, or the Moon and its shadowed craters. Saturn’s available sunlight is only one hundredth, or one percent, of what we receive at Earth, and Pluto’s is only six hundredths of a percent of the amount of sunlight available at Earth. Since RPS does not rely on solar arrays, it can give spacecraft the power it needs to go to faraway places, or in deep craters with little available sunlight. Where will your mission go with this unique ability?

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Dusty

Thinking of a mission to a dusty place, RPS has you covered! Global dust storms are a regular occurrence on Mars. Dust accumulates on solar panels, limiting the amount of energy to operate solar-powered spacecraft. Fortunately, NASA’s rovers Perseverance, and Curiosity, use RPS rather than solar panels, so they can keep working even when the environment gets dusty. Explore how RPS have helped these Mars rovers with their missions.

 

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Far Away

RPS enables far away missions. NASA’s RPS-powered Voyager twin spacecraft, launched over 45 years ago and are over 14.6 billion miles away, and they continue to return valuable data to scientists on Earth. Thanks to RPS, the Voyager spacecraft have visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and are currently exploring interstellar space - the space between our solar system and other stars. Think about how far your mission will go and what kind of data it will collect.

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Longevity

RPS offers the key advantage of operating continuously over long-duration space missions, which means you could plan a mission that stays active for a long time. RPS uses the heat from natural radioactive decay, which makes it independent of changes in sunlight, temperature, charged particle radiation, or surface conditions like thick clouds or dust. Voyager 1 & 2 have been active for over 45 years, and if you want, your mission can last a long time too!

 

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Rugged

RPS are mighty! These systems are very rugged which allows them to function in extreme environments. Check out the missions they have helped power here. In the future, radioisotope power systems could continue to support missions to extreme environments in our solar system like Jupiter’s moon Europa, the liquid methane lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan, the rings and moons of the giant ice planet Uranus or other extreme environments in our solar system and beyond.

Brainstorming Idea
Mission: Heat Producing

The excess heat produced by some radioisotope power systems can be used to enable spacecraft instruments and other onboard systems to continue to operate effectively in extremely cold environments. In addition, Radioisotope Heater Units (RHUs) can be used for additional thermal control to keep computers and instruments warm, especially on solar-powered spacecraft, such as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that explored Mars.

 

Brainstorming Idea
Your Power: Skill

It takes many different people and skills to plan and operate a mission. Think about the goals of your mission and what skills you have to help accomplish those goals. Not all missions go exactly as planned. What kind of skills can you bring to the table to help resolve a challenge your mission might encounter? Whether it is the ability to problem solve, code a program for a microcontroller, communicate effectively, or some other skill, think about how you can contribute to mission success.

Brainstorming Idea
Your Power: Personality

Just like RPS has qualities that make it well-suited for space exploration, YOU also have unique personality traits that make you suited for your RPS-powered space mission. Are you determined, brave, positive, or ambitious? Are you adaptable, resilient, or stable under pressure? Think about the personality traits you have that would make your mission successful.

Brainstorming Idea
Your Power: You Pick

If your power doesn’t fit into the categories above, no problem! Choose any personal strength unique to you that will help you achieve mission success.

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Tools

Build & Iterate

FOR THE CLASSROOM

Group Size

Split into 8 teams

Approach

Assign each team a video lesson and have them present what they learned

Material

None

Educator tools

 

In Support of NASA's Radioisotope Power Systems Program

Building upon a legacy of over 60 years, NASA’s Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) program delivers innovative radioisotope-based power systems and technology that enable science missions to some of the most distant, dustiest, darkest, coldest, and harshest environments in the solar system. In partnership with the Department of Energy, the RPS Program is a multi-center effort. The program reports to the leadership of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (Planetary Science Division).