Family of five multi-purpose U-shaped rovers
Family of five multi-purpose U-shaped rovers (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Lunar rover contest a giant leap for science, STEM

Girls, along with non-binary and non-gender individuals, can take part in an epic contest.

If you’re a young person interested in making lunar rovers, there’s an organization that wants to hear from you.

The Canadian Association for Girls In Science (CAGIS), which also includes non-binary and non-gender conforming individuals, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with the “OFF Limits” contest.

Their Lunar Rover STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Challenge is asking Canadian students between ages 7 and 17 to create a lunar lander able to perform a special soft landing on camera.

Video submissions must have a single take showing the height of a drop, a lunar lander making the jump with a raw egg encased inside, and a “grand reveal”, in which the participant opens the lunar lander to show an intact egg. Details about the contest are available at girlsinscience.ca/Off-Limits/, and all entries must be submitted by October 10, 2022 — with the deadline set for 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time).

The contest is also linked with a new video series called “OFF Limits” that launched this summer, according to Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko, founder and president of CAGIS. In an interview with SkyNews, she said the series involves exploring exciting and off-limits locations, along with behind-the-scenes views.

“If you’re someone who’s ever wondered what’s behind the door that says ‘Do Not Enter’, or what happens when you press the big red button, then that’s what we do in this series,” said Vingilis-Jaremko.

The series recently took viewers to the “Mars Yard“, which is an outdoor play area for rover prototypes at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters just outside of Montreal, Que. Such yards are used all over the world (think NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or centres affiliated with the European Space Agency) to assess how well rovers can perform in sandy and rugged conditions on the moon and Mars.

“We got to meet Canadian Space Agency engineer Chantel Dubois there, who explained what the Mars yard is and how it’s used,” said Vingilis-Jaremko, adding that “[Dubois also] introduced us to Juno, which is a lunar rover prototype.”

Photo of Juno  taken on October 16, 2012.
Photo of Juno taken on October 16, 2012. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Juno is just one of a rover fleet the CSA funded in the wake of the 2008 recession, when the government of the day chose space rover technologies as one of the directions of stimulus funding. Juno’s field tests include climbing a Hawaiian volcano slope in 2010, and again in 2012. 

It’s all valuable knowledge, as Canada gets ready to build its own moon rover that may launch later in the 2020s to explore the surface for real. Canada is a signatory to the NASA-led Artemis program that seeks to put boots on the moon sometime in the 2020s. A Canadian astronaut is slated to fly aboard Artemis 2, which will fly around the moon no sooner than 2024. 

Canada, by the way, received its seat by paying for other robotics, such as a Canadarm3 robot arm to work on a future NASA space station called Gateway. 

Practically speaking, all of these space projects mean jobs and opportunities for participants with CAGIS programs in the coming years, and that’s why Vingilis-Jaremko is so eager to offer opportunities like this. 

“There are so many jobs out there that people don’t even realize exist, and there are so many different aspects to science and to space science. We’re trying to expose youth to something new, and inspire their interest in that.”

This biweekly column by Canadian science and space journalist Elizabeth Howell focuses on a trending news topic in Canadian astronomy and space.

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