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Hunter schools in top 5 international space challenge winners

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A group of Toronto High School students have proven they are out of this world, winning an international award for their space exploration skills.

The team of four joined six other Hunter educational facilities competing for top honours in the 2021 International SpaceCRAFT Exploration Challenge.

The challenge attracted 195 students, aged between 12 and 17, from 25 schools in Egypt, USA and Australia.

After six days of competing, Toronto High was crowned overall winner last weekend.

The SpaceCraft challenge involved an international space race to the fictional planet ‘Vulcan’, with students competing in a series of visually-accurate, interactive activities on the Space Frontier. 

Students were mentored by experts including astronauts, scientists and engineers, many directly involved in current space missions at organisations including NASA.

Tasks included designing a spacecraft, navigating landing on other planets, building planetary habitats, and exploring planets for life sustaining resources. 

The competition, in its inaugural year, was sponsored by Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter’s ME Program, and attracted teams from Maitland Grossmann High, Medowie Christian, Merewether High, Newcastle Grammar, San Clemente High, St Philip’s Christian College Newcastle, and Toronto High.  

Team Toronto High placed first overall, Team SPCC from St Philip’s Christian College Newcastle snared third in their division, and fifth overall. 

Toronto High head of technological and applied science Peter Chapman said the team’s win was exceptional.

“We are extremely proud of Team Toronto High. The boys’ dedication and perseverance in the competition was absolutely outstanding. The activities certainly challenged their technical and critical-thinking skills but Chris, Finn, Sebastian and William excelled.

“We can’t thank RDA Hunter’s ME Program enough for the opportunity to compete internationally. To have won the Challenge against such fierce competition is an exceptional result that gives our students confidence to continue their iSTEM and engineering studies and has excited them for the future.” 

Toronto High student Chris Olde said that he’d learned some valuable lessons during the challenge. 

“The overall experience of the challenge was amazing and the knowledge gained will be very useful for my future learning. It gave me insight into potential careers in the space industry and I am now thinking I could study either astrophysics or aeronautical engineering with the possibility of working for the Australian Space Agency or even NASA.” 

Teammate Sebastian Hornsby found the challenge to be fun and informative. 

“I enjoyed listening to the talks from previous astronauts as well as the Australian robotics expert from JPL Ben Morel. It has helped me realise why this is an excellent avenue for me to pursue later on in life.” 

SpaceCRAFT Challenge is led by former NASA astronaut and director of Texas A&M’s AeroSpace Technology, Research and Operations (ASTRO), Dr Greg Chamitoff, who says the competition offered learning through teamwork.

“We are dedicated to producing a platform and ecosystem that will inspire and activate the next leaders in Space and STEM and engage and connect people in an interactive exploration of the cosmos,” he said. 

“We ultimately want to enable young people to join the international community of scientists and engineers working on the space frontier.

“The results from Australia’s Hunter region in its first year of competition are truly outstanding. The dedication and skill level of the students can’t be overestimated. It bodes well for the future international space community.” 

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