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NASA is continuing its strong support for the annual FIRST Robotics Competition, which inspires student interest in science, technology, and mathematics through a challenge to design and build a robot. The agency is awarding grants totaling $1,386,500 for student teams in 37 states to participate in FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
“NASA participation in FIRST puts us on the cutting edge with the leaders of tomorrow,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “NASA’s FIRST volunteers have given tens of thousands of students a crucial mentoring experience and helped them understand what engineers and researchers really do to mount challenging missions of robotic and human exploration. FIRST inspires students to pursue the technical careers of the future – careers that will help America send humans to Mars and reveal the unknown.”
Each FIRST team receives an identical kit of parts and has six weeks to design and build a robot. Other than dimension and weight limitations and other technical restrictions, the look and function of the robot is up to each team. NASA volunteers support many teams throughout the process.
The competition is structured like a professional athletic event and teams compete in an arena the size of a small basketball court. Robots must have offensive and defensive capabilities. Teams collaborate to complete tasks, while simultaneously preventing opposing teams from completing the same activity.
This year, 45 regional competitions will take place in the U.S., along with four additional international competitions in March and April. The FIRST Championship competition will be held in St. Louis in April.
“We were pleased to see the growing interest in these engineering programs, as indicated by the increase in applications this year,” said Dave Lavery, program manager for the NASA Robotics Alliance Project (RAP). “After a rigorous review process, we were able to select 241 teams for receipt of a grant award.”
NASA plays a significant role in FIRST and other robotics competition programs by increasing access and encouraging young people to investigate careers in the sciences and engineering. The competitively selected cooperative agreement for the grants is funded by RAP and sponsored by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. It is managed by the RAP Project Office at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
NASA founded RAP in 1995 to supply engineering expertise for robotics and engineering competition programs such as FIRST. During the past 16 years, RAP has awarded about $45 million to academic and non-profit organizations across the nation to stimulate America’s intellectual capability in fields tied to robotics engineering. Each NASA center participates in RAP and also contributes its respective expertise, funding and other resources.
NASA has participated in the FIRST program since 1995, and is the largest single participant. Other participants have included Motorola, General Motors, Ford, Boeing, and Johnson & Johnson.
The FIRST program was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people, their schools and communities. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST is a non-profit organization that designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills, while motivating young people to pursue academic opportunities.