NASA’s Concha Reid and two students from “The Power to Explore Challenge,” are being interview by Good Company’s Hollie Strano.

NASA’s Concha Reid (third from left) with two Power to Explore participants being interviewed by Meteorologist Holly Strano on Cleveland's "Good Company" morning show

NASA selected 9 finalists out of the 45 semi-finalists student essays in the Power to Explore Challenge, a national competition for K-12 students featuring the enabling power of radioisotopes.

Contestants were challenged to explore how NASA has powered some of its most famous science missions and to dream up how their personal “super power” would energize their success on their own radioisotope-powered science mission.

Winners will be announced on April 25.

The competition asked students to learn about Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS), a type of “nuclear battery” that NASA uses to explore some of the most extreme destinations in our solar system and beyond. Inspired by the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, a report from the science community that prioritizes science mission concepts for NASA to consider, students wrote about a mission of their own that uses this space power system and wrote about their own power to achieve their mission goals in only 200 words or less.

Building upon a 60-year legacy, NASA’s RPS program works in partnership with the Department of Energy to deliver power systems and technology for science missions to some of the dustiest, darkest, most distant, and harshest environments in the solar system. RPS enable NASA to explore the surface of Mars with the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, Pluto and beyond with the New Horizons spacecraft, and interstellar space with Voyager 1 and 2.

The Power to Explore Challenge offered students the opportunity to learn more about these reliable power systems, celebrate their own strengths, and interact with NASA’s diverse workforce. This year’s contest received nearly 1,600 submitted entries from 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Armed Forces.

"The RPS Program is absolutely impressed by the ideas and quality of writing that come forth from essays submitted to The Power to Explore Challenge." said Carl Sandifer, NASA's manager for the Radioisotope Power Systems Program in Cleveland. "We would like to congratulate the nine national finalists, and we look forward to welcoming the winners to NASA’s Glenn Research Center this summer."

Entries were split into three categories: grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Every student who submitted an entry received a digital certificate and an invitation to the Power Up virtual event that announced the semi-finalists. Students learned about what powers the NASA workforce to dream big and work together to explore.

Three national finalists in each grade category (9 finalists total) have been selected. These participants, in addition to receiving a NASA RPS prize pack, will be invited to an exclusive virtual meeting with a NASA engineer and scientist to talk about their missions and have their space exploration questions answered. Winners will be announced on April 25.

Grades K-4

Zachary Tolchin, Guilford, CT

Noelle Moore, Hamilton, NJ

Luca Pollack, Carlsbad, CA

Grades 5-8

Ella Park, Gaithersburg, MD

Rainelle Yasa, Los Angeles, CA

Madeline Male, Fairway, KS

Grades 9-12

Audrielle Paige Esma, Wildwood, FL

Hasan Maharoof, Catonsville, MD

Marc Epp, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

About the Challenge

The challenge is funded by the NASA Science Mission Directorate’s RPS Program Office and administered by Future Engineers under the NASA Open Innovation Services 2 contract. This contract is managed by the NASA Tournament Lab, a part of the Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

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