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Wakulla Middle Students Successfully Launch Project at NASA


Photo left to right: NASA WMS Team Katrina Roddenberry, Idalia Rodriguez, Camryn Grimes, Katia Toth, Morgan Crum, Melissa Martin

Group Photo: Wakulla Middle "Integrated Science" teachers, administrators, and students involved in the NASA project 

April 6, 2018


“Houston, we have a successful launch!” was heard by two Wakulla Middle School teachers and four WMS students who got to try out their design at the real NASA Center in Houston, Texas in March.

During the fall, WMS science teachers Melissa Martin and Katrina Roddenberry, along with their 99 advanced “Integrated Science” students, entered a winning proposal for NASA’s Microgravity University for Educators (MgUE) 2018 Challenge.

Team Leader Martin, Co-Leader Roddenberry, WMS advanced “Integrated Science” 8th grade students Idalia Rodriguez, Camryn Grimes, Katia Toth, and Morgan Crum tested the WMS prototype at Johnson Space Center in Houston during spring break, March 19-23.

All expenses were paid for by NASA.

 “We were one of only ten schools and the only middle school chosen.  The WMS proposal beat out many high schools across the U.S. and Puerto Rico,” said WMS Principal Tolar Griffin. “NASA let us apply because ‘Integrated Science’ is a high school credit course.”

The grant requirements were based on solving an actual problem that NASA is having.

NASA challenged teams to design and build a Satellite Launching Experimental Device (SLED) coded to autonomously deploy a mock satellite into a moving, targeted zone that mimicked a Mars orbital insertion.

The WMS team tested their SLED in a simulated microgravity and reduced friction environment called the Precision Air Bearing Floor (PABF).

Martin explained, Our students had one hour to test on Tuesday, March 20 and one hour to test on Thursday, March 22.  During Tuesday's test, the ball point sensor worked perfectly and launched our device as soon as it moved.”

“However, we had trouble putting a delay code into our Arduino. We worked on it in the hotel and loaded a better delay code to be tested on Thursday.”

Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on user-friendly hardware and software. It is intended for anyone making interactive projects.

Roddenberry added, “During Thursday's test hour, the delay code worked perfectly, but the ball tilt sensor wasn't detecting movement. We had several launches and finally got our one accurate launch into the smallest opening.”


“Our students really worked hard and were proud that they obtained an autonomous launch using 80% of the NASA kit materials,” said Martin.  


To involve other students, teachers, and anyone interested, the WMS Team used U-Stream, sharing a live feed of the launch attempts from an overhead camera. They also set up Instagram access at wakullamguescientists for anyone to follow their experience.

During the week, the WMS team got to meet International Space Station astronauts Joe Acaba and Serena Aunon; participate in professional development with the teachers; and beta test NASA activities.

They also toured Johnson Space Center, including restricted areas where astronauts train. “It was amazing!” agreed the WMS team.

In January, Roddenberry was accepted to the U.S. Space Foundation’s International Teacher Liaison Program.  She is one of 31 teachers selected world-wide to serve on this annually selected panel.

Martin has been involved with NASA for years.  She also works at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee during the summer as a co-teacher facilitating their newest program, “SciGirls Coding Camp”. This program seeks to give young girls exploration in computer sciences.

Noted Superintendent Bobby Pearce, “This WMS accomplishment further shows how hard Wakulla educators work on preparing our students to succeed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. 

“When students see how their ideas can actually be applied to real challenges in the workplace, they begin to understand that they are capable of problem-solving in any career they choose. Congratulations to the WMS 2018 NASA Challenge Team.”