“RoboDweebs are we ready? We have lift-off in three, two, one … Go!," said Two Harbors Lego robotics coach Jenna Udenberg at the team's practice Monday, July 15, at Minnehaha Elementary School.

The RoboDweebs have spent the past few months preparing for a competition Thursday, July 18, in Minneapolis. Although summer is usually considered the off-season for robotics competitions, a contest sponsored by NASA and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline (NESSP) was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The Apollo Next Giant Leap Student (ANGLeS) Challenge is a national challenge celebrating the moon mission by giving students the chance to recreate the landing using drones and robots. Students from across the United States will compete for the chance to win a free trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

RoboDweebs LEGO robotics team members Padme Beta and Ali Shaw place the lunar lander replica on the mat within a few inches of the drone dropped plastic representation. The robot must deliver its payload, the rocket, and pick up a soil sample before returning to the blue circles. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
RoboDweebs LEGO robotics team members Padme Beta and Ali Shaw place the lunar lander replica on the mat within a few inches of the drone dropped plastic representation. The robot must deliver its payload, the rocket, and pick up a soil sample before returning to the blue circles. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

Each team was required to build a replica of the lunar module and use a remote-controlled drone to land it on an 8-by-10-foot map of the moon’s surface. Students then must modify and program a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot to then explore the lunar surface and bring back a rock sample.

"We have this big blue landing zone and we have to try to get the drone to drop of the lander as close to the black circle as possible," team member Alex Stone said. "And all those red circles are craters that you'd get stuck in if it was the real moon."

If the team manages to avoid the craters and collect a rock sample, the team members serving as the mission's science officers will have to answer questions about the real rocks found by the mission.

The RoboDweebs lunar lander delivers its payload, a replica rocket, to  its rightful spot on the lunar map, within the green concentric circles. The closer the rocket is to the center, the more points the team will score. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
The RoboDweebs lunar lander delivers its payload, a replica rocket, to its rightful spot on the lunar map, within the green concentric circles. The closer the rocket is to the center, the more points the team will score. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

"So we have to identify which type of rock it is and be able to provide a few facts about it," team member Charles Lind said. "It'll be either basalt, breccia or anorthosite."

The team has a 10-minute time limit to complete all tasks. During a practice run Monday, the team ran out of time due to delays in the Bluetooth system that delivers commands to the bot. Unlike the usual Lego robotics competitions, the bot doesn't need to run autonomously, but can have commands delivered in real time.

The team has also been learning the history of the real lunar mission and were excited to find that they could see the footsteps from the mission on the lunar surface mat on which they practiced.

Team member Sophia Beta attempts to get the robot to move faster as the team is running out of time while drone pilot Wyatt Huddleston looks on. Beta wears a chicken costume to represent the city of Two Harbors' chicken statue. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Team member Sophia Beta attempts to get the robot to move faster as the team is running out of time while drone pilot Wyatt Huddleston looks on. Beta wears a chicken costume to represent the city of Two Harbors' chicken statue. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

The RoboDweebs have also taken up a different than usual team mascot for this challenge. To represent the community of Two Harbors, the team has embraced the symbol of the chicken. Three team members plan to dress up in chicken costumes for competition and have miniature chickens to line the side of the mat as cheerleaders.

Why a chicken?

"Because we love Chicken In A Biskit crackers and we love the Weldon's chicken," said team member Padme Beta, referring to the large chicken statue outside Weldon's Gift Shop along Minnesota Highway 61.

The name has even been extended to the team's backup robot, lovingly nicknamed "Cluck."

The RoboDweebs lunar lander replica must acquire one of the yellow, green or blue items, which represent a rock sample, while also avoiding the red circles. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
The RoboDweebs lunar lander replica must acquire one of the yellow, green or blue items, which represent a rock sample, while also avoiding the red circles. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)