Airmen turn teens into StellarXplorers

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Buckley Air Force Base Airmen volunteered to mentor two teams from a local high school for the Air Force Association’s StellarXplorers National High School Space Competition at the Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

StellarXplorers is a national-level competition for high school students to help familiarize themselves with the technical aspect of space and space systems. The Airmen began mentoring the teams in September, and one team made it to the finals on April 7th.

“The competition helps them prepare technically if they want to pursue a space-like career, and even if they aren’t interested in space, there are things they can learn, like how to give an effective presentation,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Dong, 460th Operations Support Squadron Space-Based Infrared Systems orbital analysis chief.

The competition consisted of scenarios provided by the AFA which replicated real-world space operations. Students would then have to figure out how to get their space craft into space, with the right components to perform the mission, all without exceeding the given weight and budget.

Mentors helped the students figure out the right accommodations for their space craft, crunch numbers and prepare for the presentation.

“We couldn’t do the competition for them, but we gave them the tools they needed to do well,” said Dong. “I think what helped them do so well is that they were dedicated.”

The StellarXplorers contestants, along with their mentors, spent after-school hours to work on their projects and prepare for the upcoming competitions.

Among the other Airmen from Buckley AFB who participated in mentoring the Rangeview High School students were Staff Sgt. Ryan Hegler, 460th OSS orbital analysis NCO in-charge; Staff Sgt. Geoffrey LeClaire, 460th OSS site scheduling NCO in-charge; Staff Sgt. Mitchell Montepagano, 460th Space Wing Inspector General self-assessment program manager; Staff Sgt. Eric Larson, 460th OSS staff instructor; Senior Airman Nick Pulkownik, 460th OSS staff instructor; and now Naval Officer Candidate Matthew Greger.

Of 131 teams from the U.S. and abroad, the Rangeview students placed 7th, landing themselves in the top five percent of the StellarXplorers competitors. In 2015, the Rangeview group came in first of five teams, and in 2016, they came in 2nd out of 27 teams.

With the help of the Buckley Airmen, Rangeview students have continued their success in the competition by finishing in the top tier of finalists, despite the exponential growth of StellarXplorers contestants.

“We helped them get on their feet and learn everything,” said Hegler. “It was more of our vision of what we wanted them to learn, but they performed so well because of their dedication and wanting to be the best team overall.”