In June 2019, NASA will launch a full-stress test of the Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort System (LAS), called Ascent Abort-2, which will demonstrate the LAS can send Orion and its crew a safe distance from a failing rocket if an emergency arises during ascent to orbit. This flight test is a critical step to demonstrate Orion’s safety as NASA leads the next steps of human exploration into deep space.

NASA’s new App Development Challenge (ADC) – a 2019 pilot project for a longer term competition – provides an opportunity for middle and/or high school students to demonstrate the practice of coding and app development. In this ADC, students work in teams to develop an app that visualizes three minutes of simulated test data in support of the upcoming Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test.

In Round 1 of this challenge, participants will have the opportunity to chat with NASA subject matter experts to learn tips on how to make the app the best it can be. Teams will then post videos of their app designs online for consideration by NASA to use in future missions. In Round 2, teams with favorable submissions advance to present their app in an interview with NASA engineers working on the AA-2 flight test. After this round, NASA will select student team/s for an all-expenses paid trip to a NASA field center in early summer, 2019. The challenge launched on March 13, 2019 and Round 1 participation concludes with video
submissions on May 1, 2019, but teams must register with NASA by April 10th! So if your students like doing super cool things with super cool groups at NASA, make sure to check out this opportunity now!

To participate, student teams must:

  • Be able to process approximately three minutes’ worth of data smoothly.
  • Use any programming language (e.g. Java, Scratch, etc.) and/or operating systems (Windows, Android, etc.) to complete development of an app.
  • Read 21 double-precision floating point numbers (doubles) that represent position and rotation of the rocket’s three main parts from an external source.
  • Display all 21 doubles (although not necessarily simultaneously) in some meaningful form beyond text.
  • Submit a video of original student led work on the completed app.
  • Adhere to you school districts’ policies regarding participation in the challenge.
  • Complete program requirements as identified by the ADC team.

Check out the competition website here:

Or contact NASA to tell them you want to participate at:


Its not unusual to hear about a family moving long distances so their kid can play football or basketball for a better school. If they believe their kid has elite-level talent but might not catch the eye of college coaches because their current school isn't competitive, moving can make a significant impact. Families on the athletic track will stop at nothing to get their kids the best opportunities to play for the top colleges.

But what if your kids are more likely to be on the “academic” track than pursuing a career as a professional athlete? Far more of us are likely to have successful careers by gaining knowledge and skills in academics than we are in becoming the next Tom Brady or Kevin Durant. Parents might not regularly move across the country so their kid can attend a school with a better academic reputation, but its not uncommon for them to scout out school districts to see which ones are better than others. If your kid has a knack for science, technology, and math, going to a school with programs that foster and nurture that knowledge can mean a lot for their future. More and more families are even moving to different neighborhoods based primarily on the strength of their school districts!

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to judge the true strength of a school district based just on report cards and standardized test scores. How would it look if we evaluated Football or other sports this way? What we need is to be able to differentiate schools based on real performance in specific academic scenarios. If schools participate in nationwide academic competitions - just like they do in sports - it becomes a bit easier to understand where its academic strengths really lie. We decided to do this with one industry and see what information we could glean about the high schools and states at the top of their game helping to prepare our kids for successful college and career opportunities.


America’s Next Top Rocket Scientist.

The aerospace industry includes some of the brightest minds in the country and according to business insider, it has one of the highest median job salaries out there at $145,000. With over 68,000 jobs in the sector (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) your kids are much more likely to be successful at an aerospace career than professional sports.

So, our question is how can we determine which high schools, school districts, or even states are better for budding aerospace engineers? We can start by analyzing performance in national competitions like the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Our team at ICS spent a little time reviewing the past decade of Team America Rocketry Competition (TARC) performances to see if there were any trends that stood out.

Over the last decade only 24 states have had a team place in the top 10 spots at a TARC competition. Just 9 states have had 5 or more top 10 placements and only one state, Texas, has had more than 10 top 10 placements.

Team America Rocketry Challenge Top Performing States, Institute of Competition Sciences

This is not entirely unexpected. Many of the states with the most top 10 finishes have at least one of two things going for them, if not both. Either (a) they include a large aerospace hub in their state (i.e. Texas is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Florida is home to Kennedy Space Center, and Alabama has Marshall Space Center), or (b) they are simply a more populous state with more schools competing (Texas is #2 in terms of population size, PA is #6, CA is #1).

What stands out even more when you consider these two factors are the states where neither of them exist. We then might attribute their strong standing in TARC even more to the exceptional performance of the schools and teachers themselves. Three states, Washington, Missouri, and Wisconsin fall into the category where they do not have strong aerospace sectors and don’t fall into the top 10 most populous states - WA is #13 most populous, MO is #18, and WI is #20 (Michigan straddles the edge of being in this category at #10 most populous).

Does this mean that the educators in Washington, Missouri, and Wisconsin are simply doing a better job teaching their students about aerospace and rocket science? Maybe. Maybe not. But it probably means that at the least, they’re doing more with less help from expert mentors in the industry. Should you flock to these states if you want your kids to become aerospace engineers? Probably not. Having the support of a strong industry sector nearby also plays a big role by providing more opportunities for students.


Exceptional Rocket Science High Schools

When we break it down to specific high schools, there are a few that stand out for having long-standing success in TARC competitions over the years. A total of 69 schools have made it into the top 10 placements over the last decade of TARC competitions. However, only 21 of them have had 2 or more repeat placements, and only 7 schools have had 3 or more top 10 placements.

Team America Rocketry Challenge top performing schools, Institute of Competition Sciences

The only school to have multiple first place finishes is Madison West High School (2009 and 2012). Plantation High School in Florida, and Madison West High School in Wisconsin tie with 5 overall top 10 finishes.


Becoming the Next Great Rocket Scientist.

So what does all of this mean if you want your kids to become the next great rocket scientist? Should you plan your move to a new state for a new school? Probably not. What may be the most important thing to take away from this brief analysis of Team America Rocketry Contest is not necessarily the specific schools finishing at the top of the ladder, or even the states with the most top 10 finishes. What matters most is to find a school that participates. You cannot learn to be the next great rocket scientist if you aren’t in the arena testing your skills.

According to the TARC website, more than 5,000 students participate in the competition each year. While this may sound like a large number, consider that there are 15.1 million high school students in public schools (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) in the United States.

So if you have kids interested in aerospace, NASA, or rocket science specifically, and you have some flexibility with which schools they attend, make sure to check in with them on if they participate in TARC and the other great academic competitions that can help your students get ahead. If they aren’t already participating, make sure they’d be willing to get a team started if your kid attends the school. Simply getting in the arena and letting your kids compete to test their skills is the most important thing you can do to help them get ahead in the college and careers of their choice! Don't let them miss out because their school isn't even in the game. 

Check out more information about TARC and other related competitions on the ICS Competitions Database.

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: