Four seniors at Lewiston High School will get the opportunity to speak with astronauts housed on the International Space Station after their team was selected as one of four first-place winners in a nationwide NASA-sponsored competition.

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics team dubbed “The New Von Brauns” competed in the Rover Observation and Drone Survey, or ROADS, on Mars competition where students in grades 3-12 completed objectives in anticipation of the next Mars rover launch.

“Honestly, it’s pretty overwhelming because we were the top four in the country and after everything that’s happened because of COVID, it’s incredible that we made it that far and incredible that we even got a result,” said LHS senior Jamie Teed.

The competition started with 586 teams in September 2019, but was put on hold because of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. It was reactivated in fall of 2020 and 27 teams completed the competition.

The team completed a series of challenges that included researching craters on Mars, seismic activity and wind and water erosion. Their work was detailed in a mission log.

Bill Lillibridge, the team’s mentor, said the competition was an extracurricular activity that taught the students how to work in a team and better understand the scientific method.

“They are all incredibly intelligent men and women and I think this is really good validation that if you put in the hard work, you can do extraordinary things,” Lillibridge said. “I’m always saying you can do whatever you put your mind to and this is proof.”

Aiden Lillibridge, who is Bill’s son, was responsible for creating a Lego Mindstorms rover that he later programmed to complete different tasks. He said the challenge helped him learn how to adapt to changing circumstances.

“I could run the code 15 times and get 15 different results,” Aiden said. “I had to learn how to adapt to a situation and make the best of it.”

Teed shared a similar experience.

“I found it really ironic that the rover that NASA launched this year was named Perseverance because after everything got shut down, it was really hard to keep the team together,” Teed said. “It’s really amazing to see the physical results after all of us pulled our weight to get there.”

Teed and Aiden worked with their other team members, Noah Williams and Janina Daep. Three of the four students plan to pursue STEM fields once they graduate from Lewiston High School.

Teed plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Idaho, while Aiden plans to major in both cybersecurity and mathematics at UI. Daep will study biochemistry at UI and Williams plans to attend Arizona State University to major in either music or finance.

The students do not yet know what they will ask the astronauts through a live feed later this year, but they are excited to get an opportunity that most people will never have.

“It’s an odd feeling,” Aiden said. “But it shows that you will never get anywhere if you don’t put forth the effort.”

The team was originally supposed to go to Cape Canaveral in Florida to watch the Mars rover launch as a reward for winning, but the trip was canceled because of the ongoing pandemic.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.