Experience of a Lifetime

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Mihir Shah shares the unforgettable experience of visiting NASA’s Kennedy’s Space Centre as a participant of the lunabotics competition

NASA, perhaps the word is enough to show how big an organisation it is. Many engineers might be fascinated by working there or for that matter competing in any competition pioneered by them. I am one of them. I am Mihir Shah, a student pursuing my MBA(Tech) from NMIMS University. I belong to the telecommunication engineering branch and am presently in the 4th year of my course.
NASA organises a couple of competitions in their premises each year that might help them for their future research and expeditions. One amongst them is the ‘NASA’s Annual Lunabotics Mining Competition’. This was the third year for the competition and my team and I participated in this endeavour. The competition is mainly based on lunar robotics. The main aim of the competition was to make an efficient robot, which could work wirelessly and collect as much of regoith, ie sand particle available on the moon in the minimum possible time.The Lunabotics is a global competition and many international teams participate. This year there were approximately 70 teams who registered for the competition, out of which 14 were registered from India. However only 58 teams were physically present out of which 8 represented India.
It all started in the month of November when we started with our planning on the path to make our project a success. Our team was named ‘Chandrakanth’ and under guidance of our professor Mr. Sawankumar Naik, five of us started our hard work on the project. We had divided the work amongst us in such a way that Arjun Kaushik was the team leader, Kushal Raja was the mechanical in charge, Mrudul Neralla and myself were concentrating on both coding, networking and mechanical side as well, and Neha Jain was responsible for all documentation, so that we could work as a team and come up with a unique design for this lunabot, which we started calling ‘Chandrakanth’.
We had to make a design taking into account various restrictions set by NASA beforehand such as the bot should not exceed dimensions of 1.5mts*0.75mts*0.75mts and the weight of complete mechanical and technical part should remain under 80 kgs. Due to the unavailability of certain resources and materials we faced many delays. We had to change our design a lot of times during the making process. I still remember the date when we were under so much pressure of completing the Robot that we were in the workshop from 4 in the evening to almost 4:30 early morning without going home and we had to go for our visa interviews the very next day at 7 am.
It was the ‘yes we can do it’ and ‘we want to do it’ that helped us a lot. During February- April 2012 we had internships and our time table was such that we would go home for just to eatdinner and get ready. We used to rush home at 7 in the evening from our internships, eat and leave for a complete night of coding and networking. We used to be awake till 4 am and again leave for home at 6 am. This was practically the timetable during February to April 2012, when we had most of our work. These were the memories of all the hard work we did to convert our dream to reality.
It was a collective effort that made it possible to compete amongst very tough participants at NASA, be it Indian teams or previous year’s winners. Our competition started on 21st May 2012 and ended by 26th May 2012. It was the week of a lifetime. When we entered the premises of “NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex”, the first thing I could see was the arena where we were to participate. I recollect the song being played in the campus was ‘Set fire to the rain’ and that in my mind was ‘Aashayein mile dil ke’. The amount of preparation we did back home was to be successfully delivered here. During the competition preparation in the NASA campus, we went under more pressure to make our college proud. There were a few mistakes that we made, but all before the final competition. We were up against one of the toughest competitors and an international team of ‘NYU- Polytechnic’ of New York, where we couldn’t win, but we were in fact amongst the top 15 teams who actually participated there. Our design was highly appreciated by one of the judges, especially Mr Philip Metzger.
Under the name of Lunabotics, there were several competitions in which we had to compete apart from on-site mining ,which was the main focus of the event. We had to do a slide show presentation on the key aspects of the bot and what were the difficulties and demonstrate our design. Our design being simple and using the mechanism of a digger it was said to be well suited and basic, but one of the judges highly appreciated our presentation skills made by Mrudul Neralla, Arjun Kaushik and me.
At the award ceremony on the last day, we were almost in tears due to two reasons; one being that our beautiful and unforgettable journey had come to a sweet end and another because we realised that we had lost two competitions with a very narrow margin. Presentation was where we missed third position, by 2 points and in social outreach, where we had to inculcate science and technology in underprivileged students (which we did at Sneha Sadan Orphanage), we just missed the bronze by half a point.
But at the end of the day, 8 months of hard work, 2 days of travel and 4 flights changed to reach our destination, it was completely worth. We are all satisfied with the amount of knowledge we gained, not only technically but also on the managerial front. I sincerely thank my college, Flywings Aviation and Acme Telepower who financed us for this wonderful project. I would also like to thank all my team mates for their coordination as well as my faculty guide for his valuable help and guidance.

It was a collective effort that made it possible to compete amongst very tough participants at NASA. When we entered the premises of “NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex”, the first thing I could see was the arena where we were to participate

 

Volume 2 Issue 3

 

 

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