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Robotics team from Gardiner Middle School, Oregon City High School earns NASA honors.

COURTESY PHOTO - Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline representative Hilda Pereyo gives a NASA award to Oregon City students Sophia Misley, Patricia Misley, Arianna Nackos, Lily Kirkpatrick and Pahlychai Thao.Oregon City's Lunar Ladies won Oregon's grand-champion award in NASA's Mars challenge for the second year in a row in December.

In the process, they were selected as national co-champions with three other teams from across the U.S., at the same time earning recognition as the only all-girl team to win the NASA challenge.

As the only repeat winners in the nation, the Lunar Ladies robotics team from Oregon City High School and Gardiner Middle School took advantage of their extra free time in 2020 to again win the Mars challenge.

NASA's ROADS (Rover Observation and Drone Survey) on Mars Challenge was originally slated to end in April 2020, but after a series of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual live tournament was changed into a virtual video format to ensure social distancing. The announcement of winners took place Dec. 8, 2020, via Zoom.

As grand champions, the Lunar Ladies will receive a one-of-a-kind NASA experience after COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, most likely an all-expenses paid trip to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to view a live space launch in July or October.

The Lunar Ladies are: seventh-grader Sophia Misley; ninth-graders Lily Kirkpatrick, Ariana Nackos and Patricia Misley; and 10th-grader Pahlychai Thao. Portions of the team have been working together on STEM-related challenges for more than six years in the OCSD Lego Robotics Program.

"These girls are amazing. They overcame multiple COVID-19 delays and came out on top," said their coach, Tom Misley. "They even hand-crafted their team costumes as a tribute to everyone's favorite little green man, Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes."

The ROADS on Mars Challenge celebrated the launch of the Mars 2020 rover as well as the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13's "successful failure." Teams faced tasks including engineering and programming, analysis of biological signatures and geologic features, and simulating flying to Mars and successfully landing.

Teams were scored on how well they programmed their custom built Lego EV3 Mars "rover" through a series of obstacles on an 8-by-10-foot map of the Red Planet. In addition, a compact drone was used to safely land a model of the Mars 2020 rover on the map as well as take photos of a replica of a Mars crater.

Successful teams were able to command their rover to collect and cache five simulated soil samples and test a real soil sample for moisture. Other "mini" challenges included mission planning, crater formation, delta dynamics, methane detection, mission patch design, social media video editing and the study of macroinvertebrates.

The ROADS on Mars Challenge was sponsored by NASA and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline.

"I am so proud of this all-girl team as they have found the connection between what they are doing every day in the classroom with the real NASA missions through these student challenges," said Hilda Pereyo, NESSP representative.

COURTESY PHOTO - Grand-prize winners visiting the NASA Space Center in 2019 include Gardiner Middle School students Sophia Misley (from left), Evie Kirkpatrick, Lily Kirkpatrick, Pahlychai Thao and Patricia Misley.At the start of the 2019-20 school year, Oregon City students who won the grand prize in the previous Lego robotics science challenge, treated returning school staffers with a demonstration.

During a staff welcome-back assembly on Aug. 28, 2019, they did a live demo for all returning staff using a drone and programmed custom-built robot.

On July 20, 2019, 50 years to the day of the completed Apollo 11 mission, 23 middle and high school robotics teams came together for a competition in Dallas, Oregon. Oregon City's robotics team from Gardiner Middle School won the grand prize, an all-expenses paid trip in 2019 to the NASA space center in Houston, Texas.

The team had the challenge of recreating the lunar landing using modern-day drones. Besides the robotics and engineering portions of the challenge, the team also had to create costumes, team branding and presentations.

The team made the trip to the NASA space center on Aug. 4 to showcase its talents with other grand champions from states across the nation. While there, team members took tours of the facility and met with NASA astronauts.

The Lunar Ladies are looking forward to competing again this year. NESSP and NASA are still accepting new teams for their latest challenge, ROADS on Asteroids. You can find additional details and register teams at

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