Luca holds up his space drawings, Rainelle looks attentively into the camera and Audrielle makes the heart sign with her fingers in these candid photos provided by their parents.

Nine-year-old Luca Pollack, twelve-year-old Rainelle Yasa, and fifteen-year-old Audrielle Paige Esma are the winners of NASA’s 2023 Power to Explore Challenge. Credit: Winner portraits courtesy of Danielle Pollack, Janet Ortega, and Yzmaela Esma

NASA selected three winners out of nine finalists in the second annual Power to Explore Challenge, a national competition for elementary through high school students featuring the power of radioisotopes for space exploration.

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 envisioned a mission using this space power system. They wrote about their own power to achieve their mission goals in 200 words or less.

“Exploring the secrets of our universe is at the heart of what we do at NASA, and we can always use more help brainstorming innovative ways to reach the most extreme environments in our solar system,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “It is my honor to congratulate the winners of this year’s Power to Explore Challenge for their exceptional radioisotope-generated mission ideas.”

Entries were split into three categories based on grade level, and a winner was chosen in each category. The three winners, along with a guardian, are invited to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, for a VIP tour of its research facilities.

The winners are:

The Power to Explore Challenge offered students the opportunity to learn about space power, 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.

Every student who submitted an entry received a digital certificate. Fifteen national semi-finalists in each grade category (45 total) will receive a NASA RPS prize pack, and three finalists in each category (nine total) will be invited to discuss their mission concepts with a NASA scientist or engineer during an exclusive virtual event.

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.

For more information on the radioisotope power systems visit:

Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
Headquarters, Washington
301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501 /

Kristin Jansen
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland

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