Kilby’s Tiger21 center chosen as NASA Engineering Design Challenge site to solve space mission problems
Posted on 11/05/2019
A smiling Sarah Plumitallo, Kilby teacher,  stands with arms out at the NASA Wallops Center Kilby Elementary School’s Tiger21 Learning Center is among 310 locations in the country chosen as a NASA Engineering Design Challenge site. The Engineering Design Challenge is a partnership between NASA and You for Youth (Y4Y), the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center program support organization. Approximately 25 students in Kilby’s Tiger21 program are part of the afterschool club that will work in teams of three to five students to solve a real-world problem facing NASA scientists and aerospace engineers. The project takes place over the course of several months.

Tiger21’s challenge is “Mission to Mars,” in alignment with NASA’s new Artemis missions. Students are learning about the physics of landing on Mars, and the perils of trying to decelerate a lander in a very thin atmosphere. Their real-world challenge is to create an in-flight/landing mechanism that will slow down the lander enough to keep the payload intact. Students will go through various iterations in the engineering design process until they perfect their system. A video will document the entirety of the engineering design process, as well as the results. NASA evaluates the individual teams.

The challenge process includes four video chats with NASA scientists and engineers over the course of the program. Students have completed two video chats thus far. The first video chat was with an aerospace engineer based out of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center who is working on technology to support the Artemis missions. The second video chat was with an aerospace engineer based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who works directly on the Mars rover.

“She shared with students that she has driven the Curiosity 900 feet and will be the lead trainer for the unnamed rover launching in 2020!” said Sarah Plumitallo, ESOL teacher and science lead teacher at Kilby. “[The chats] really were the coolest things ever. Our students got to ask about 10 questions during each and learned some AMAZING things.”

At the end of the challenge, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), which supports the program at the state level, will hold an event at a location yet to be determined. Select teams will be chosen to attend the event and present their work to NASA representatives.

Plumitallo is the 21st CCLC grant writer for Tiger21 and site coordinator at Kilby. Brandi Morrone, second-grade teacher, also works with the students in Tiger21.