High school JPL Space Academy teams celebrate mission accomplished

High school students, from left, Elana Sverdlik, Maya Vasisht and Sophie Haleblian explained their work on team “JEMS,” during a JPL Space Academy graduation Saturday held on the La Cañada campus.
(Courtesy of Amy Nespor)

High schoolers celebrated a huge mission accomplished Saturday, convening in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s von Kármán Auditorium as soon-to-be graduates of the JPL Space Academy.

Created by JPLer Art Chmielewski and former La Cañada High School Principal Ian McFeat seven years ago, the 10-week afterschool program offered students the opportunity to design and build their own PVC pipe rocket launchers and test them in real-world conditions.

A group of students relay the highs and lows of running a rocket-launching businesses Saturday during a graduation ceremony marking the end of the 10-week JPL Space Academy.
(Courtesy of Amy Nespor)

Launchers were tasked with catapulting electronically coded projectile rockets through a series of hula hoops in a course set up at the La Cañada facility’s Mars Yard, where actual spacecraft vehicles are put through their paces.


Some 36 participants formed nine teams, or companies, whose successes and failures either propelled or thwarted stock market portfolios aimed at attracting investments from other company teams. Students earned “money” for reaching milestones throughout the program.

At Saturday’s NASA-styled mock press conference graduation, students shared videos they’d created highlighting their team’s work and earned awards for team accomplishments. Team “Big Boys” had the best stock portfolio, worth $19,012, while “Vesta” was recognized for having a stock value of $266 per share.

JPL Space Academy
Students Daniel Pinski, from left, Max Weinberger, Jonah Garland and Aidan Mase give a thumbs up Saturday after being awarded for having the best stock value during a JPL Space Academy graduation.
(Courtesy of Amy Nespor)

Recognition for having the best electronics code went to team “Above Average,” while “Cosmo” won a nod for having the most unique launcher design. Teams were assisted by five managers (past JPL academy graduates and a cadre of adult instructors).


Chmielewski presided over the evening, explaining the premise behind the Space Academy was to create opportunities for students to become de facto space entrepreneurs and to learn the many skills associated with planning and executing a business.

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