A challenge of cosmic proportion unfolds Saturday at The Tech Museum, where more than 1,200 students from 5th-12th grades will gear up for "International Space Station Mission: Space Junk" to purge the earth's atmosphere of a growing amount of human-made debris.
Some 4 million pounds of orbital junk - from obsolete satellites to derelict rocket bodies to nuts and bolts - forms an orbital garbage dump around Earth, presenting a hazard to spacecraft and human space missions. For this year's challenge, students have designed devices that must attach two thrusters (size "D" batteries) to an inoperable satellite - all from the deck of students’ temporary "home" - the International Space Station.
"The students' increasingly creative solutions to the challenge are the result of months of science and technology learning," Peter Friess, president of the museum, said of one of the signature education programs of the museum. "The program engages young people in a unique way, giving them practical, hands-on design and engineering experience while encouraging them to work as a team."
Adding to the excitement of the day are the gaudy, tongue-in-cheek team costumes along with singsong chants and precisely choreographed dance routines. Combined with family, team mentors and spectators, more than 4,000 people are expected to cheer on the more than 250 teams throughout the day as they contend for "Best Overall Solution," "Best Team Name" and the only-at-The-Tech-Museum's "Most Spectacular Failure."
The signature science and technology program challenges teams - made up of two to six members - to create a solution to a real-world problem. For more than 20 years, The Tech Challenge has allowed some 13,000 youth from elementary, middle and high schools throughout Northern California and other regions to hone their creativity and innovation on challenges that included building devices to fight wildfires, removing invasive fish from a lake, exploring an Egyptian tomb and surveying craters on Mars.
At a time when science education is rapidly disappearing in schools, it's incumbent upon the community to find alternative, creative venues that will inspire the very innovators and entrepreneurs who will power the Silicon Valley of the future. The Tech Challenge offers one such approach.
"If we can get kids engaged in math and science in a collaborative environment at an early age, we can capture their interest and create enthusiasm in these subjects," said SAP Senior Vice President and museum board member. "We want to inspire the next generation of Silicon Valley to continue the tradition of innovation and free-thinking."
Many of the skills and competencies inspired through The Tech Challenge are those that experts insist are critical to successful careers in the 21st century – particularly those in the global high-tech world.
"Brocade recognizes the value of collaboration and competency in math and science, making the company a natural partner to support The Tech Challenge year after year," said Mike Klayko, CEO of Brocade. "The Tech Challenge introduces and reinforces the scientific process with a hands-on group project geared toward solving a real-world problem and fosters the spirit of innovation, which is core to Brocade's company culture."
The annual challenge has had lasting impact on students, widening their worldview and instructing them more about themselves and one another.
"We knew from the beginning that Tech Challenge was not designed as simply a competition for competition's sake. We signed up for it knowing and hoping for experiences that would change how we thought about each other and the world, and we were not disappointed," wrote 2009 "Best Overall Solution" winners the Funky Shiitake Mushrooms of Mission San Jose High School in Fremont. "The Tech Challenge has helped us develop a unique team chemistry fostered from collaboration and our own individual abilities."
The 23rd Annual Tech Challenge: "International Space Station Mission: Space Junk"
The Tech Museum, 201 S. Market St., San Jose (Parkside Hall)
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., Saturday, April 24
For more information about The Tech Challenge, visit: www.thetech.org
Roqua Montez, Senior Manager Public Relations
The Tech Museum
About The Tech Museum
The Tech Museum is a hands-on technology and science museum for people of all ages and backgrounds. The museum - located in the Capital of Silicon Valley - is a non-profit learning resource established to engage people in exploring and experiencing technologies affecting their lives. Through programs such as The Tech Challenge, our annual team design competition for youth, and internationally renowned programs such as The Tech Awards presented by Applied Materials, Inc., The Tech Museum celebrates the Spirit of Silicon Valley by encouraging the development of innovative ideas for a more promising future.