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Devbrat Patnaik

Cuttack: Some 58 teams from 22 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 28 more international teams from eight different countries will be competing in the 27th annual NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC) scheduled in April 2021.

One of the teams representing India comprises 10 students from Odisha who are now giving final touches to a human rover that has been designed and built by them, backed by mentors. The eye-catching reality is this is for the first time that a school team from Odisha and India has been selected for the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

The budding scientists are working on a human rover which can easily accommodate and handle the weight of two people and move on the terrains of Mars and Moon. As is being claimed, they have gone the Swadeshi-way to develop the Rover as only the parts of bicycle, bike, auto-rickshaw and car have been used.

The team, all aged below 19, formed by Bhubaneswar-based Navonmesh Prasar Foundation during the pandemic includes school kids and some ITI students from across the State.

Amongst the 10-odd masterminds is a bright girl student from Mayurbhanj district, whose father works in a cycle-mart. A life of penury forced Rina Bag to come to the capital city Bhubaneswar where she had been working at a welding workshop. "Yes, they (my parents) are extremely proud. I was working at a welding workshop on the roadside. I'm happy to be a part of this team and recognised by NASA," said Rina.

Kailash Chandra Barik, another budding scientist said, "My job is to assemble the parts of the rover and see which parts fit in where. I also look after the fitting works and the designs of welding."

After developing the rover, they will test the vehicle to see if it can traverse the simulated surface of another world. Rover team leader Vaishalini Sharma said, "We have set a target to complete the rover project by February end. And then in March-end, we are sending our rover to NASA. The work is still in progress."

Tanvi Mallick, a class IX student who is a part of the team says, “We are the first team from Odisha and first high school student team from India which has been selected for the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge."

"The project is to develop a lunar rover, something which will run on the terrains of Moon. And we have to indigenously manufacture that rover in our own facility," stated Project director and founder of Navonmesh Prasar Foundation Anil Pradhan.

NASA's (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Human Exploration Rover Challenge is an annual event for high school and college students to design, build, and race human-powered, collapsible vehicles over simulated lunar/Martian terrain. The team from Odisha was supposed to go to Alabama in April 2021 to represent the country in the competition, but this year’s HERC has replaced the in-person year-end events with a virtual event, NASA said, citing that health and safety of all teams remain first priority of the space agency, reports said.

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