Olympic Heights Engineering Academy team takes first place at the 2021 Student Astronaut Challenge competition


With team sponsor Miss Nimmi in the foreground, the Olympic Heights Astronaut Challenge team is made up of (from left): Brenda Nakasone, Andrew Shack, Nicholas Ivanovic, Emilye Piperis, and Katherine Marrero.

The Olympic Heights Engineering Academy’s Astronaut Challenge Team was the overall First Place winner at the 2021 Student Astronaut Challenge competition. The competition consisted of a Simulator Challenge, Design/Lab Challenge, an Engineering Challenge, and a Mission Patch Challenge. The team placed first in the Simulator runoff competition, and placed second in the Design Challenge.

While previous OH Student Astronaut Challenges teams have done well at past competitions, this is the first year an OH team won the overall First Place trophy.

The team members on the winning team are: Katherine Marrero (OH CTE Student of the Year and Pilot), Brenda Nakasone (Flight Engineer), Nicholas Ivanovic (Mission Control 1), Andrew Shack (Shuttle Commander), and Emilye Piperis (Mission Control 2).  

Engineering teacher and team adviser Ms. Nirmala (Miss Nimmi) Arunachalam, proudly states, “It is commendable that the team did not falter or slow down despite all the obstacles that came their way. The entire competition was held virtually despite technology issues that made it difficult to run the flight simulator on a zoom call!” 

This year’s design challenge required students to propose a solution to reduce the effects of microgravity on the lungs of the astronauts, and help improve and strengthen their lung capacity. The OH team’s solution, the “Binav,” proposed utilizing the idea behind the iron lung technology, which was used to help polio patients breathe. 

The negative pressure ventilator design was proposed to overcome the negative effects of microgravity on lung capacity through consistent use over a period of time. 

Miss Nimmi and the OH Student Astronaut Challenge Team would like to thank former OH Engineering Academy alumnus Ian Finkelstein (OH math teacher Ms. Sommer’s nephew and now a biomedical engineer) for helping them brainstorm ideas. They are also grateful to Ms. Brihammer for her valuable support in preparing the team for their final presentation in this challenge.

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