NASA: Going Beyond Encouraging Diversity
Written By: Rachell Frank
The 2019 HRC Course at NASA Huntsville Campus
On April 12 - 13th of this year, NASA held their 25th annual Human Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama. This event hosted 100 high school and college teams who spent months prior building and developing their own rovers, with the objective of carrying two students through an obstacle course that simulated conditions on Mars.
In the race, the two pilots of each team first carried their disassembled vehicle to the starting line before reconstructing the entire rover on the spot and navigating through the course. Teams were required to include one male and one female pilot to power the vehicle through a half-mile of terrain, where they periodically collected samples, took photographs, and planted a flag. The real challenge, though, was finishing the course within the 6-minute time constraint. (Taken from an article written by Brian Dunbar on the NASA website)
Promoting Diversity & Inclusion
Originally, I wanted to publish a story praising the all-female teams who participated in the Rover Challenge. However, I have since discovered that, last year, NASA created a rule instructing teams to be co-ed to further promote diversity in STEM. Through requiring both teams and pilots to be of opposite genders, NASA has made a clear statement that all ideas and opinions mattered. Teams could not have one homogeneous group do all the work and just showcase a token female member just to meet requirements. Both pilots had to work together to effectively complete the course, making each integral to the success of the team.
Having diverse perspectives in problem solving, innovation, and challenges, such as NASA's Human Rover Challenge, fosters greater strides of progress in society. Female and male brains are known to work differently, and members of each sex can spot different types of problems and offer unique solutions. For example, because women tend to have larger hippocampi, their approaches are commonly based on memory and intuition, and they can more easily relate potential problems to past experiences. On the other hand, men tend to problem-solve by isolating the issue and dissecting it via a logical approach. This is also why during conflict, men tend to remain unemotional and use facts to work through the problem, whereas women tend to employ emotion and intuition. NASA was able to determine that the best way to innovate technology as it applies to aerospace and aeronautics is to require diversity, not just encourage it.
The 2019 Human Rover Challenge hosted teams from 13 different countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, and the United States, in both age divisions. In the high school division, the International Space Education Institute from Leipzig, Germany took first, the Saint Thomas Academy from Minnesota took second, and the University Gardens High School from Puerto Rico took third. In the college division, the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez took first, the Rhode Island School of Design took second, and the University of Puerto Rico Humacao took third. Congratulations to the winners and competitors!
If you want to find out more about the competition or how to compete next year, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/roverchallenge/home/index.html