Special to Mission Valley News
Francis Parker School’s Zero Robotics team has made it to outer space.
The team — comprised of 10 sophomores, two juniors and two seniors — completed its best season yet in the annual Zero Robotics High School Tournament. Preliminary rounds are conducted in virtual environments with the finalists earning a spot in the finals held aboard the International Space Station.
That’s right — The International Space Station.
Parker has entered teams in every competition for the past several years. But this was the first time that the Parker students reached the finals, allowing them to write code to program miniature satellites called SPHERES (an acronym for Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) into performing various tasks aboard the International Space Station.
“I’m very proud of the job our team did this year. It’s kind of awesome,” said team advisor Michael Maunu, who also teaches Upper School mathematics and AP computer science at Parker.
“We have a very strong computer programming curriculum with a lot of offerings that other schools don’t have, and our performance at the Zero Robotics competition is just one more validation of that fact,” he said.
The competition was inspired by astronaut Greg Chamitoff and the MIT Space Systems Laboratory. His goal was to open research on the International Space Station to middle school and high school students.
Zero Robotics says its goal is “to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and teamwork.”
Members of the Parker Zero Robotics team:
Ashkon Aghassi (Class of 2018); Troy Appel (Class of 2018); Ryan Austin (Class of 2018); Peter Bullard (Class of 2017); Ben Clark (Class of 2017); Nicolas Contreras (Class of 2018); Ben Dorsey (Class of 2018); Nicole Keeney (Class of 2016); Alex Kramer (Class of 2016); Andrew Lezny (Class of 2018); Jeremy McCulloch (Class of 2018); AJ Nawrocki (Class of 2018), Kiran Rhodes (Class of 2018); and Sunshine Schneider (Class of 2018)
The Parker Zero Robotics team (also named Team 2485) placed fifth in the nation – and 12th in the world – during the first phase of the competition. At the end of the second phase, Parker was selected to join an alliance that included teams from Charlottesville, Virginia, and Piraeus, Greece. That sent the team to the International Space Station for the Jan. 25 final round, which was refereed by astronauts aboard the space craft.
Among 27 alliances worldwide, Parker’s finished in fourth place.
“The competition challenges students to become problem solvers in whatever they do while also perhaps planting the seeds of preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Maunu said.