A illustration shows an eclipse progressing to total darkness. The darkness is filled with the Radioisotope Power Systems atomic logo. On the left, students listed superpowers including creativity, optimism and perseverance.

The 2024 content is timed to the April total solar eclipse in the United States.

2024 Power to Explore Finalists Announced

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

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 1,787 submitted entries from 48 states and Puerto Rico.

Grades K-4

  • Katerine Leon, Long Beach, CA
  • Rainie Lin, Lexington, KY
  • Zachary Tolchin, Guilford, CT

Grades 5-8

  • Aadya Karthik, Redmond, WA
  • Andrew Tavares, Bridgewater, MA
  • Sara Wang, Henderson, NV

Grades 9-12

  • Thomas Liu, Ridgewood, NJ
  • Madeline Male, Fairway, KS
  • Kailey Thomas, Las Vegas, NV

About the Challenge

The challenge is funded by the Radioisotope Power Systems Program Office in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate 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.

2024 Contest Details

Student entries for the third NASA Power to Explore Student Challenge are in.

The writing challenge invites K-12th grade students in the United States to learn about radioisotope power systems, a type of nuclear battery integral to many of NASA’s far-reaching space missions, and then write an essay about a new powered mission for the agency.

For more than 60 years, radioisotope power systems have helped NASA explore the harshest, darkest, and dustiest parts of our solar system and has enabled many spacecrafts to conduct otherwise impossible missions in total darkness. Ahead of the next total solar eclipse in the United States in April 2024, which is a momentary glimpse without sunlight and brings attention to the challenge of space exploration without solar power, NASA wants students to submit essays about these systems.

Entries should detail where students would go, what they would explore, and how they would use the power of radioisotope power systems to achieve mission success in a dusty, dark, or far away space destination with limited or obstructed access to light. Submissions are due Feb. 9, 2024

Judges will review entries in three grade-level categories: K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Student entries are limited to 250 words and should address the mission destination, mission goals, and describe one of the student’s unique powers that will help the mission.

One grand prize winner from each grade category (three total) will receive a trip for two to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, to learn about the people and technologies that enable NASA missions. Every student who submits an entry will receive a digital certificate and an invitation to a virtual event with NASA experts where they’ll learn about what powers the NASA workforce to dream big and explore.

This technology has been a gamechanger in our exploration capabilities and we can’t wait to see what students – our future explorers – dream up; the sky isn’t the limit, it’s just the beginning.
- Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The Power to Explore Student Challenge is funded by the NASA Science Mission Directorate’s Radioisotope Power Systems Program Office and managed and administered by Future Engineers under the direction of the NASA Tournament Lab, a part of the Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Judges Needed

NASA and Future Engineers are seeking volunteers to help judge the thousands of contest entries anticipated to be submitted from around the country. U.S. residents over 18 years old who are interested in offering approximately three hours of their time to review submissions should register to be a judge at the Future Engineers website.

Read the Winning Essays from the 2022-23 Contest

Power to Explore 2022-23 Student Writing Contest winners
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

The Previous Challenge

If you are a K-12 student in the United States, your challenge is to dream up a new RPS-powered mission. Tell us where your RPS-powered mission will go and describe your mission goal(s).NASA missions are also powered by people. Tell us what you think your unique power is and how your special power will help you achieve mission success. Your power could be a skill, personality trait, or other personal strength that is uniquely you.

Grades K-4 Winner: "FIRE and Ice: Fortitude-Resilience Explorers and Ice!" by Luca P. of Carlsbad, Calif.

Grades 5-8 Winner: "The Mystery of the Oceanic Death Star" by Rainelle Y. of Los Angeles, Calif.

Grades 9-12 Winner: "Mission to the Egg" by Audrielle Paige E. of Wildwood, Fla.

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