Cool Schools: Students Write Code To Control Satellite In Space

8:18 AM, Feb 23, 2012   |    comments
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HOWARD COUNTY, Md. (WUSA) -- The students at River Hill High School have accomplished a pretty impressive feat since we did a story with them in January. Their programming skills not only got their work into outer space, but the competition back on Earth got them even more attention.

Senior Mark LaPointe said, "We never thought we'd be actually doing something like this." 

It started as just a contest but soon it went beyond that, way beyond it.

The students looked like they were playing a video game but were actually writing a computer code that will control a satellite in outerspace! The budding programmers placed fourth in the world in a contest called Spheres.

NASA and M.I.T. sponsor the contest, with the goal of getting students excited about science.

Students write in the "C" programming language and their work gets beamed to the International Space Station.

"We involved the physics that the kids learned, we involved the calculus and computer science and they pulled it all together," said Anne Cotney.

Did they ever! Now they will see if they can win the whole thing when they take a trip to M.I.T. later this month.

They have a pretty good chance -- their mentor is retired NASA astronaut Dr. John Grunsfeld. He knows a little about satellites. He's repaired the Hubble Space Telescope.

"We will see in real time, via videocast, with the students at M.I.T. their robot performing," said Grunsfeld.

Dr. Grunsfeld says the most valuable lesson for students is learning "systems engineering" -- breaking down a complex task into small parts, then having the teams come together as one for a solution.

According to Grunsfeld, "Often engineers have even graduated from college and have never worked on a complex problem involving lots of difference angles and the students here have already done that."

Students in Howard County programming satellites in outerspace. Pretty cool, huh?

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