Top teams in NASA-sponsored challenge make their own Mars landing

By Chris Wallish
Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline

As NASA and space enthusiasts around the world prepare for the Perseverance rover’s landing on Mars this week, seven student teams from across the U.S. have achieved their own impressive mission success — in ROADS on Mars, the 2019–2020 NASA National Student Challenge.

The Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline (NESSP), the program behind the ROADS student challenges, is excited to announce the following four teams that achieved top prizes:

Top Teams

  • Ares Bobcats — A Curiosity Division (high school) team from the Cienega Astronomy STEM Club in Vail, Arizona
  • The New von Brauns — A Curiosity Division (high school) team from Lewiston High School in Lewiston, Idaho
  • Lunar Ladies — A Curiosity Division (high school) team from Gardiner Middle School in Oregon City, Oregon
  • Sunray Bobcats Ares X-plorer — An Opportunity Division (middle school) team from Sunray Middle School in Sunray, Texas

NESSP also recognized three teams for overall mission excellence:

Mission Excellence

  • Kerbal Krew — A Curiosity Division (high school) team from Spearfish Robotics Club in Spearfish, South Dakota
  • DAB’EM — An Opportunity Division (middle school) team from Roosevelt Elementary in Port Angeles, Washington
  • Lil Einsteins — A Curiosity Division (high school) team from Western Aerospace Scholars in Spokane Valley, Washington

Top Teams teams received trophies commemorating their achievements, and all awarded teams received official NASA certificates, with additional prizes and recognition coming this spring. Other teams were recognized for excellence at various mini-challenges ranging from searching for signs of life in their communities to designing a mission patch for their team.  A complete list of winners can be found at:

“We are so inspired by the students who persevered to complete the ROADS on Mars Challenge during this difficult year,” said Mary Denmon, NESSP acting director. “It took a lot of hard work and team effort to complete their mission for ROADS on Mars.  I hope we see these students continue on with the skills they’ve learned and continue to contribute to NASA endeavors.”

The ROADS on Mars challenge, which kicked off in autumn 2019, followed in the mission steps of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Like Perseverance, the ROADS challenge incorporated biological and geological concepts, such as identifying biosignatures (signs of life invisible to the human eye) and investigating both how craters are formed and the effects of erosion on a landscape.

The challenge was to culminate with in-person final events around the country in April, but things took a turn for the virtual as shelter-in-place orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 began affecting communities and schools. In summer 2020, NESSP implemented a strategy for teams to complete the last activities of the challenge remotely and began accepting video submissions.  Ultimately, 27 teams were able to complete the challenge and submit final materials.

Reflecting on the difficulty of missions to Mars, Kristen Erickson, NASA Science Engagement and Partnership Director, said: “We can’t predict today how the landing will go tomorrow, but we have prepared as much as we know how — just like students did in their Mars challenges.  If we are successful tomorrow, our ROADS teams will have an appreciation for the hard work that goes into such an endeavor because they did it too!”


More information is at

Members of the media can contact communications officer Chris Wallish at 206-221-7743 or