Surrey high school teacher Jag Uppal didn't think it was possible.
It was just days before the deadline to enter a prestigious design competition held by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a group of students was asking him to be their team's advisor.
"I just sort of chuckled because I'm like — this is a NASA-level competition. I didn't think that two days was enough time for them to get a proposal," Uppal said, speaking on CBC's The Early Edition.
Much to Uppal's delight, he was wrong.
The LeoCraft Design Team, made up of Grade 11 and 12 students from Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey, about 30 kilometres southeast of Vancouver, did more than make deadline.
They are the only Canadians among 72 student groups selected to compete in NASA's 2024 Human Exploration Rover Challenge.
The challenge will be held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, about 305 kilometres north of the state capital Montgomery. High school and college students from around the world will showcase their human-powered rovers on an obstacle course that simulates the terrain on Mars and the moon.
The Surrey team is currently 3-D printing mock-up designs.
"You have to build a rover that is human-powered and we can do this by basically making our own parts and things like that. We already have the visual design," said team member Omar Arain.
"On the front, we have a constant velocity axle, which is used for modern day on your cars and on the back, we have a live axle. To connect them, we're using go-kart wheel hubs because of the dexterity and also the efficiency of them. And then for the wheels, we decided on a honeycomb because of the strength," Arain explained.
LeoCraft Design's team leader, Jeevan Sandhu, works on design ideas for the team's rover model. (Submitted by LeoCraft Design Team)
According to LeoCraft, they are only the second Canadian team ever selected to compete in the 30 years the challenge has taken place.
The challenge gives students a chance to engage with the agency's Artemis program, which includes putting the first person of colour and the first woman on the moon, according to a NASA press release. The goal of the competition is to encourage students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
"As a team, we are very inclined toward STEM, toward engineering and … we really wanted to test those skills. We wanted to see what we could learn and what we already did know," said team member Parneet Dhesi.
LeoCraft members are also getting real life entrepreneurial experience because they must raise $30,000 to cover the cost of the trip and their design materials by pitching community sponsors, Dhesi said.
A LeoCraft team member showcases a 3-D printed mock demo of what the wheel hub will look like on the rover they are currently working on building. (Submitted by LeoCraft Design Team)
"Finding those donations comes from more than just being STEM-minded. We have to be able to network with different people out there," Dhesi said.
Uppal said the rover will be built in Surrey and then will need to be taken apart and reassembled in Alabama.
The team will need to demonstrate that it is foldable because, in addition to completing the obstacle course, the challenge involves fitting the rover inside a 1.5 metres squared cube.
Uppal likes LeoCraft's chances, but acknowledges the competition will be stiff.
Parneet Dhesi, left, and Omar Arain are looking forward to competing with teams from around the world. (Submitted by LeoCraft Design Team)
"They keep finding ways to rise to the challenge and so I'm really excited to work with these individuals," Uppal said.
"There's a lot of pride. We're very humbled to represent Canada. We're all just kinda scared to be honest, 72 different schools are there ... and we're the only Canadian team and we do want to represent Canada proudly."
The competition will be held on April 19 and 20 and bragging rights are the grand prize.
To learn more about LeoCraft and their journey to Alabama, visit LeoCraft.ca.