Students to recreate first moon landing with drones and robots on 50th anniversary

April 8, 2019 | Events, UToday, Arts and Letters
By Christine Billau

As the country prepares to celebrate that one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind taken 50 years ago, The University of Toledo is on a mission to enlist local middle and high school students in a competition to recreate the historic lunar landing using robots and drones.

The winning team receives a trip to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Apollo 11 moon landing serves as a shining example of scientific ingenuity and human curiosity,” Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, professor of geography and planning, said. “This event will give students a taste of the excitement the world had for the lunar landing in 1969.”

UToledo and Monroe County Community College have teamed up to serve as one of more than a dozen hubs across the U.S. in the Apollo Next Giant Leap Student Challenge. Each hub sends a winning team to Houston.

The competition, which is free and open to students in fifth through 12th grades, takes place Saturday, July 20, at Monroe Community College. However, the registration deadline is Monday, April 15. Register online at the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline website.

Teams of five students need to be affiliated with an organization such as a school, library, museum, after-school program or club.

The teams build a replica of the lunar module and program a Lego robot to act as a rover; use a remote-controlled drone to land the module on a map of the moon’s surface as close to where Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed; maneuver the rover across the map of the lunar surface, completing various missions to score points; plant a flag; and safely return the lunar module to where it started using a drone.

A limited number of kits are available at UToledo for teams to use for free. Contact or call 419.530.4120 if you are interested in participating.

“The students have to hit the target and program the robot to go around obstacles,” Chris Black, UToledo doctoral student in the Spatially Integrated Social Science Program, said. “They’ll have a commander and pilot, just like a lunar mission. We want them to feel the spirit of achievement and exploration exemplified by those who contributed to the successful landing of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the moon 50 years ago.”

After registering, adult mentors are encouraged to attend a training at Monroe County Community College from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, and Wednesday, April 17.

As director of what is known as the SATELLITES (Students And Teachers Exploring Local Landscapes to Interpret the Earth from Space) program, Czajkowski has been giving K-12 opportunities to develop and present hands-on research projects to build knowledge using the resources of NASA and education partners across the country.

“The 50th anniversary of the moon landing presents a unique opportunity to have a blast,” Czajkowski said.

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