Computer-Design Drawing for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover
Heavy metal will rock -- and roll -- at seven different locations across the country early next year. Students, engineers and their robotic creations take center stage during NASA sponsored regional robotics competitions and a final national championship "Bot Bowl" in April 2003.

Teams must design a robot that can complete a specified set of tasks within rules announced at the robotics kickoff ceremony in January 2003. This is the fifth consecutive year NASA has sponsored student teams. Applications are available online at

The deadline for submitting a sponsorship application is Nov. 8, 2002. Last year, NASA sponsored 193 student teams from across the country. This year NASA will fund more than 200, including some already selected.

The annual nationwide robotics competition is conducted by the non-profit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization in Manchester, N.H. Teams entering the competition are sponsored by NASA and a number of corporations.

Each year, the organization presents a game problem and identical parts kits to each team. The teams, composed of high-school students, teachers, professional engineers and scientists, work together to construct robots for the competition. The engineers come from NASA, private industry, other government agencies and universities. More information about the competition is at

FIRST was started in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to provide an exciting and inspirational experience for American youth while exposing students to the potential of engineering and technology fields. The annual robotics competition is patterned after Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Woodie Flowers' engineering design course. NASA participation in the program is directed by Dave Lavery of NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. and provided through NASA's Robotics Education Project and the Office of Space Science at Headquarters. More information on NASA's Robotics Education Project is at

The robotics competition aims to inspire students, provide hands-on activities and foster teamwork. The program provides students with opportunities to work side-by-side with professional engineers to build a robot. Each year, the teams are given a complex task their robot must perform in competition. They receive a kit filled with motors, control computers, raw materials and many of the parts they will need to get started.

NASA's Robotics Education Project will select approximately 130 new teams to receive sponsorships to participate in the 2003 Robotics Competition. Teams may receive sponsorship from NASA for a maximum of two years. Funding for sponsorships is awarded through a competitive selection process. NASA recruits volunteer engineers to be team members and to mentor schools. The competition is geared toward high-school students, but other schools may participate.

"Education is key to the success of our country, and this approach represents one of the most powerful ways to get students motivated," said Mark Leon, project manager of the Robotics Education Project, located at NASA's Ames Research Center, in California's Silicon Valley. "Some of these students may go on to help NASA engage in bold new missions of exploration of our solar system. The idea here is to involve students in hands-on activities to turn them on to science and math."

The robotics competition kicks off January 4, 2003, at the Verizon Center in Manchester, N.H., with a demonstration of the task for this year's regional and national competitions. Rules, goals and other details, such as the layout of the playing field, will be revealed during NASA TV's broadcast of the ceremony.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is partially sponsored by NASA as part of the Robotics Education Project. In collaboration with FIRST, NASA's Robotics Education Project is hosting seven of the 23 regional competitions around the country. The dates and cities where NASA is hosting regional competitions are March 6-8, 2003, in Cleveland, Richmond, Va., and St. Louis; March 13-15, 2003, in Annapolis, Md.; March 27-29, 2003, in Atlanta; and April 3-5, 2003, in Seattle and Los Angeles.

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