With SpaceX leading the way for commercial space travel and exploration, you can imagine my excitement when the SpaceX recruiter came to the Rocket Lab seeking applicants to their very first engineering competition. The competition was hosted at USC and gave students a chance to test their classroom knowledge with real-life applications. I applied and a few days later notified that I was assigned to the Merlin Team!
No one knew what the mission, materials, or amount of time we would have to complete the design and test task. We only knew to bring ourselves and provide our t-shirt size. When I arrived I had the opportunity to talk to current SpaceX employees as well as SpaceX interns about their work and responsibilities. Afterwards each team was given a box containing Legos, an Arduino, and a computer. We had 4 hours to design, build, and test a Mars rover that could autonomously find the center of a circle while also able to sustain being dropped from 6+ inches and could identify and grab an object. My team of four worked well, with me at the helm of the vehicle’s structural design. It was an amazing experience to hear the expertise of the SpaceX employees and their suggestions. However once tested, the vehicle did not work exactly as we anticipated, but were able to later compare ideas with the other design teams and learn other interesting solutions. Needless to say the vehicle did survive a 6 and 12 inch drop and I can honestly say the competition was extremely fun! I would definitely advise students to apply and try your hand at “real-world” applications of engineering as a reminder to why you chose engineering in the first place.