A Rookie Team Saved Puerto Rico’s dynasty at NASA’s 2017 Rover Challenge.

Posted September 4, 2017 by Tyler Berrigan

Each year, major sports franchises look to pick up the hottest new players from high school and college teams. This past season, we saw some truly amazing rookie performances. In fact, the 2016-17 athletic seasons played host to some of the greatest rookie performances of all time. There is always conjecture about who should take the top spot and be recognized as “Rookie of the Year,” but every year there are a few who stand out. Here some of the top rookies from the latest sports seasons:

Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys (National Football League). With unrivalled speed, power, vision, elusiveness and skill, Elliot spearheaded the Dallas Cowboy’s superlative offense. With 322 carries, he was able to charge for 1631 yards at an average of 5.1 yards per carry and score 15 touchdowns. His amazing rookie season saw him earn Pro Bowl honors and take out the 2016-17 NFL rushing crown.

Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (Major League Baseball). Turner has fast become one of the most effective and powerful hitters in the MLB and transformed the Nationals offense into one of the most revered in the competition. He finished the season with a .342 batting average, .37 OBP, .567 slugging percentage, with 13 home runs, 14 doubles, 8 triples and 33 stolen bases.

Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks (National Basketball Association). Brogdon’s efficiency, reliability and accuracy has received much praise across the NBA. With 767 points, 113 turnovers, 84 steals, 317 assists, 213 rebounds and a free throw percentage of .865%. Brogdon’s 2016-17 season will unquestionably be remembered in the years to come as one of the great rookie performances.

Given that every year athletic competitions look to the up-and-coming rookies to see who will be the big stars in the future, we thought, why don’t we do this with Academic Competitions as well? We want to know who will be the next great engineers, scientists, and innovators. Who are the hot robotics teams coming up? Who can present the best debate arguments? Who can engineer the best new vehicles? Companies in every industry want to hire the best and the brightest, so let’s take a look at the rising stars in Academic Challenges!

To start out, ICS reviewed the Human Exploration Rover Challenge from NASA – an engineering design and performance competition for high school and college students. NASA needs the top scientists and engineers to join their ranks as they look at the future of space exploration – especially plans to go to Mars! So they’re very interested in where the next top young engineers and rover designers are. The 2017 season of this challenge certainly left us all in awe of one new upstart team.


Rookies Continue a Three-Year Rover Engineering Dynasty for Puerto Rico!

One rookie performance that by and large went unnoticed in the 2016-17 seasons was that of the Ramon Quinones Medina High School in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. This challenge requires students to design and build their own rover that is human-powered and able to carry two students over a half-mile obstacle course of simulated extra-terrestrial terrain made up of craters, boulders, ridges, inclines, crevasses and depressions. Puerto Rican teams have dominated the High School division of the Rover Challenge for the last 6 years – taking home first place for the past 3.

In 2017, it looked like the two-year champions would be taken out after some strong performances from other teams bested the performances from Puerto Rico’s traditional winners. Then one unexpected rookie team came through with a gutsy and determined performance to preserve the Puerto Rican dynasty!

In the first round, the experienced Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology team, from Reno, Nevada clocked an impressive circuit time of 5:09, sending them straight to the top of the standings after the first runs were completed (each team gets two attempts in this challenge, and the fastest time wins). It seemed that the Puerto Rican dynasty would finally come to an end as none of the teams were even close to this time.

Ramon Quinones Medina High School’s first run was a disaster; they weren’t even able to clock an official time for the run due to setup problems. However, as they sat poised at the start line for their 2nd run, they were surely as determined as ever to make this last shot count. Their incredible second run, must have stunned all spectators and competitors as they seemed to fly over and around the obstacles clocking an impressive time of 4:12. Nearly a minute faster than the Round 1 best time! As the remaining teams clocked in their times, even the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology wasn’t able to beat it and Puerto Rico once again held on to the championship, although through a completely unexpected turn of events!

With Puerto Rico taking such a dominant position in the challenge for the past 6 years, we have to ask, what is the secret of their success? According to NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center Education Specialist Diedra Williams, “they network, they support one another, they train together… It's hard for some teams traveling from far away to raise sizeable cheering sections to come with them. The teams from Puerto Rico get around this problem by rallying to support each other -- playing music, singing and rooting for their new competitors just as enthusiastically as the veterans. That positivity and energy definitely is reflected in their performances." Crowd support and high morale seem to be one key factor in addition to the team's technical skill.

In fact, Puerto Rico dominated the Human Exploration Rover Challenge in both divisions this year. The US territory took 1st and 3rd place finishes in both the High School and Collegiate Divisions.

High School Division

  • First Place: Ramon Quinones Medina High School of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, with a time of 4 minutes, 12 seconds
  • Second Place: Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology of Reno, Nevada, with a time of 5 minutes, 9 seconds
  • Third Place: Teodoro Aguilar Mora of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, with a time of 6 minutes, 20 seconds

College/University Division

  • First Place: University of Puerto Rico at Humacao Team 1, with a time of 4 minutes, 21 seconds
  • Second Place: Rhode Island School of Design of Providence, with a time of 6 minutes, 45 seconds
  • Third Place: University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, with a time of 7 minutes, 14 seconds

The rookie team at Ramon Quinones Medina High School pulled out a victory at the last minute; extending the Puerto Rican dynasty for a third year. Their amazing performance certainly lifted this rookie team up to be a contender for best rookie performance of 2016-17 in our world of Academic Competitions. They will be a source of inspiration for rookie engineering teams all over the world for next April’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge!

The next NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge will take place in April, 2018. Perhaps we will see another strong performance from this year’s rookies at Ramon Quinones Medina High School. Or maybe we will see a new set of rookies stand out. Be sure to tune in as the next wave of young engineers, their teams, and supporters descend upon Rocket City (Huntsville, Alabama) this coming spring.

If you think your school might have the next great Rookie Team for the challenge, don’t miss out, you can still register new teams by contacting NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center Academic Affairs Office at: MSFC-RoverChallenge2018@mail.nasa.gov