Niles Middle students present rover project to NASA

NILES — Four Niles Middle School students were among a small group of students from 20 districts throughout the state to present their findings on rovers moving on different surfaces to officials at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

The seventh-graders — Zoey Rawlings, Harper Sabatino, Ashton Russo and Tom Rossi — accompanied by teachers Gaye Breegle and Dan Rogge went to NASA where the students made a video presentation and explained what their rover did with various types of wheels attached to it as part of their class project.

Breegle said this was a unique opportunity for the students who are in her accelerated seventh-grade science class. The students designed and built a miniature Mars rover and had to design a set of wheels that could navigate the Mars surface.

The project, which was sponsored by Inventor Cloud, American Makes and NASA, provided students with a test set of wheels they studied to determine what worked and what didn’t work. The students then had to come up with their own design, for which they used a 3D printer in Rogge’s class to make the wheels.

The students recorded a video of their final rover in action, as well as an explanation of how they arrived at making the new wheels. They submitted that video to NASA.

About 140 teams from 20 schools representing four counties participated in the competition, which was open to students in grades 7-9 and 10-12. The Niles Middle School team is one of just three middle schools chosen to present their findings.

“The students were selected based on the video they presented to Inventor Cloud. The video showed how they worked together and recorded and graphed their data,” Breegle said.

She said there was a big focus on teamwork for the project.

While at NASA, the students saw the large-size lunar module wheels similar to what they worked with. Students explained the different surfaces the rover went over including sandy, rocky, sandy at a 10-degree angle and rocky at a 10-degree angle.

The team modified the wheel of the rover to go over the different surfaces. Rawlings said they realized there are different surfaces on Mars and no such thing as a smooth surface there. Russo said the presentation was exciting to make for the NASA officials.

“It was exciting being in the room where they made the lunar module wheels,” Rossi said.

Sabatino said the team had a lot of trial and error when practicing in class with boxes filled with sand, rock and uneven surfaces.

The team’s rover was named Phil with a lightning bolt used as the logo to show speed.

The graphed data included the speed and distance the rover moved with old wheels and then new modified wheels on different surfaces.

The students won the middle school competition at NASA and were rewarded with a new 3D printer for their classroom. They decided to name it Phil in honor of the rover that helped them win.