An Out-of-This-World Experience at the MATE International Underwater Robotics Competition

Elizabeth Thomson is the team CEO of the Alpena High School Underwater Research Robotics Engineering Team.

This year, nearly 70 engineering teams from 16 different countries (about 1,000 students total) earned the right to compete in the 2016 Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) international underwater robotics competition at NASA's Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). This year's mission tasks focused on exploring Jupiter's moon Europa and reef conservation in the Gulf of Mexico. 

My team, the Alpena High School Underwater Research Robotics Team, competed and was honored with the prestigious Martin Klein MATE MARINER Award. Klein is the inventor of side scan sonar and one of the leading pioneers in underwater research. He is a strong supporter of the competition, and each year, he selects a student or group of students he feels are continuing that pioneering spirit of creating a better community and a better world.

While competing, we had the opportunity to meet aerospace engineer Jeremy Szydlowski. He works for NASA as a design engineer creating space suits. He told us about being an engineer and working on the space suits; the last suit he approved is on the space station right now, and he was the last person to wear it on Earth! He went to the University of Michigan and is a 2002 graduate of Alpena High School.

After the competition, Jeremy invited the team back to NBL for a tour. We got to watch two astronauts, Luca Parmitano and Chris Cassidy, complete a spacewalk training on the simulated International Space Station (ISS). Both astronauts have also spent time on the ISS. We also learned how space suits are built and assembled for each astronaut.

It was an incredible experience.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of this guest author.