The Hockaday School in Dallas will send its best robot builders to Houston Wednesday where five classmates will take on the world. They'll compete at the World Festival, a celebration of champions who competed and won in the 2019 FIRST LEGO League season.
"These girls are really passionate," Laura Baker, the school's robotics coach said.
The girls are sixth graders Celine Ebert, Anika Kapoor and eighth graders Sydney Slay, Jayna Dave and her twin sister Nina Dave.
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"Our team is all girls, and it's important to have girls in STEM. And we've been inspired by astronauts in space," Jana Dave said.
They're called the Saturn V Girls, and they took the first place Champions Award at the North Texas FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Championship Robotics Tournament back in February. They were the best in a field of 469 teams.
"It was really amazing to watch them work and collaborate as a team, especially in the robot challenge, to see them come together," said Terera Lenlig, vice president of School and Community Engagement at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The museum produces the regional robotics competition and oversees all North Texas FLL events.
The Saturn V Girls know their way around a robot from building it, to programming it to explaining why it matters.
"All these missions have something that has to do with space," Kapoor said. "Every year there's a theme that has to do with a real world problem, and this it's Into Orbit and helping astronauts on either a physical or mental problem they face in the real world on long distance spacecraft. People are wanting to get to Mars, so this is how we can help, and it's kids' ideas."
Starting in August, the team has researched and studed real-world problems in space and designed innovative solutions using science and technology.
Just as important as building and programming a robot is the teamwork to make it happen.
"It really helps with knowing each other and then we're able to know how each other works, and therefore, work better in the end," Slay said.
"Since we know each other outside robotics, too, it really helps us get to know our personalities and it makes us work better together at the competitions because we can anticipate what they're thinking, makes everything flow better," Jana Dave said.
And in their teamwork, the girls may have found a real solution to making a rocket more comfortable during long periods in orbit. They found their answer in a scratch-n-sniff sticker.
"In space, there's no gravity so the body fluids of an astronaut rise up and it feels like you have a head cold all the time. Since taste is 80% smell, the astronauts can't taste," Kapoor explained. "So this would allow them to taste what food actually tastes like."
That scratch-n-sniff sticker with smells like caramel apple or lavender could someday be in a rocket, but the lasting impact of their work may come in what the girls accomplished together.
"These skills they're learning through the core values, the gracious professionalism, the treating others with respect, collaboration as team will pay off as they move forward in college and careers," Lenling said.