Three kids and a woman stand close together with big smiles in front of a museum display.

Winners Audrielle Paige Esma, Rainelle Yasa, Luca Pollack, and NASA’s Kristin Jansen (third from the left) at the Glenn Visitor’s Center at the Great Lakes Science Center as a part of the prize fulfillment for the Power to Explore Challenge. Credit: Craig Allen

Three student winners of NASA’s Power to Explore Challenge journeyed behind the scenes at NASA's Glenn Research Center and Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) in Cleveland after drafting the top papers in the national STEM essay contest.

The competition for kindergarten through 12th grade students focused on the potential of radioisotopes. Students were challenged to learn how NASA has powered some of its most famous science missions and to dream up how their personal “superpowers” would energize their own radioisotope-powered mission.

Judges narrowed down over a thousand creative essays to 45 semifinalists, who received prize packs; nine finalists, who participated in a videoconference with NASA experts; and three winners, who were awarded a visit to NASA Glenn.

Luca Pollack, the kindergarten through fourth grade winner; Rainelle Yasa, the fifth through eighth grade winner; and Audrielle Paige Esma, the ninth through 12th grade winner, toured several research facilities including the Zero Gravity Research Facility, the Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) Laboratory, and the Graphics and Visualization (GVIS) Lab. Along the way, they met with engineers and researchers to learn about NASA’s missions and the technologies that will send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars.

“I’ve always felt torn between subjects,” Esma said. “I love learning about space, but I’m also heavily interested in biology, engineering, and writing. This competition taught me that these interests can overlap, like space and writing, for example. I hope whatever I end up doing in the future will encapsulate as many of my interests as possible.”

The next day students and their families traveled to GLSC, which houses the NASA Glenn Visitor Center. Accompanied by a member of NASA’s Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) team, the group toured the visitor center and explored the many interactive displays.

“It was our pleasure to host the three student winners of the Power to Explore Challenge, and I hope that this visit will further inspire and motivate them to pursue their interests in science and exploration,” said Carl Sandifer, manager for NASA’s RPS Program. “We are so impressed by the ideas and quality of the essays submitted this year, and we can’t wait to what new ideas student come up with for next year’s challenge.”

The Power to Explore Challenge asked students to learn about the RPS, a type of “nuclear battery” that NASA uses to explore some of the most extreme destinations in our solar system and beyond. Students then wrote about their own power to achieve goals in 200 words or less.

NASA will hold its third annual Power to Explore Challenge later this fall. For more information on the challenge, visit:

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