Teens’ hopes fly high in NASA Challenge

Vision Builder Rover test

The Vision Builder rover prototype goes airborne during tests at Hornet’s Nest Park

The future of NASA exploration – or at least the dreams of several teenagers – recently flew down the dirt-bike track at Hornet’s Nest Park. The teens, members of the Vision Builder Adventures program, were testing their emerging entry in the 2021 NASA Rover Challenge.

“Testing the Rover was wild and awesome fun!” said Marshall George, a student leader with Vision Builders.

Johnny White founded Vision Builder Adventures 14 years ago to help area youth learn and have fun through projects. That vision fits perfectly with the Rover Challenge.

“Each year, the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge features an engineering design challenge to engage students worldwide in the next phase of human space exploration,” the Rover Challenge website says. “The competition challenges high-school and college students to create a vehicle designed to traverse the simulated surface of another world.”

The Vision Builder Rover team comes from several area high schools, including the Cato Middle College High at Central Piedmont Community College’s Cato Campus in University City. The team includes:

  • Warren Floyd, sophomore at Olympic High School
  • Marshall George, senior at Central Cabarrus High School
  • Major George, junior at Central Cabarrus High School
  • Jacob Kim, senior at Audrey Kell High School
  • Hannah White, CATO Middle College High

Last year, Vision Builder took a large group of students to the NASA center in Alabama. “This time, we’re taking the kids who are able to do the fabricating and able to do all of the other activities” required to design and field a competitive rover. “These are sharp kids!”

Months of work

Team members with rover prototype

Team members work on their rover prototype at a local shop

The Vision Builder team began working on the project in June with guidance from White and several volunteers from nearby businesses.

The pressure to create and build a rover worthy of the NASA competition in Huntsville, Ala., was already intense; the pandemic took it to a new high. The Vision Builder Facebook page has many photos of the students and adults designing and building their pedal-powered two-person prototype.

“We’ve been Zooming, Zooming, Zooming, Zooming,” White said, referring to the popular group video-meeting platform. “We’ve been going back and forth on designing it, and then going to the fabricator’s shop three times to get it to the point where we can test it. It has been an adventure.”

First big trial run

Team and community members after test

Johnny White: “We would like to thank our community partners for a successful day of Testing. Eric Simpson (Resident Mechanical Engineer), Daimen Liesman (MOBS Custom Fabrication), Mark Coates and staff (Hornets Nest BMX Track owner), Will Murray (BMX Professional Champion “Retired”) and Parents.”

That test came in mid-November, when the students, White and volunteers took their rover to the BMX dirt track at Hornet’s Nest Park. A short video clip (click to watch) captures two of the team members pedaling furiously and taking the rover airborne over one of the track’s dirt ridges.

“We learned a lot about the rover’s capabilities,” White reported on the Vision Builder Facebook page. “Good results. But we still have some work to do.”

Much more to do before April in Huntsville

That work will continue through April 2021, when the team travels to NASA’s facility in Huntsville for three days of competition.

Each team member is in charge of a part of the project, including design, fabrication and marketing, White says. “So we’ve got different kids working on different things, taking ownership of different things, and we are pushing, pushing, pushing it on through.”

You can watch and help

  • See the progress so far and keep up with next steps via the group’s Facebook page.
  • Learn about Vision Builder Adventures at the group website.
  • Provide support for this and future programs by contacting Johnny White at visionbuilder@outlook.com and 704-412-8205. Vision Builder Adventures is a nonprofit 501c3 organization. Community partners and donations underwrite a big part of the program. Learn more

Thanks to the Student Advisory Team

Adult volunteers are essential to this project’s success. The Rover Challenge advisory team includes:

  • Eric Simpson – Resident Mechanical Engineer
  • Johnny White – Program Coordinator
  • Program advisors
    • Damien Liesman, MOBS Custom Fabrication
    • Jeremy Funk, Mallard Creek Polymers
    • William Murray, former BMX Racing Pro
    • Mark Coates, operator of Hornet’s Nest BMX Track operator


Receive Up to Date News

Receive Economic Development News

View Past Newsletters

View Post by Category

Press Releases

Meet our new intern, Haley Chilcott

Haley Chilcott is our new Marketing Communications Intern here at University City Partners. Haley is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is majoring in Communications, with a concentration in Public Relations. After graduation...

University City Partners welcomes our newest board members

  University City Partners welcomes its newest members of the UCP Board of Directors: Charlotte City Manager Marcus Smith and Michael Fung, a regional leader for Wells Fargo's Corporate Properties Group. The University City Partners Board of Directors consists of...

Response to tragic police incident and unrest

Last night our community was at the center of a tragic police incident followed by several hours of demonstration, aggressive agitation and unrest. Our neighborhoods, businesses, retail centers and institutions were impacted with activity that has left us all feeling...

Introducing our UNC Charlotte interns

University City Partners is proud to introduce our "Class of 2016" - our fall semester interns from UNC Charlotte. Seniors Hollis Maye-Keye and Cagney Reeves will help us with communications and planning - key functions for our success. We encourage you to consider...

UCP video report: Planning for our transit-powered future

University City Partners has launched a new feature - a monthly video report on how we are investing time and resources to build University City. Today's report: UCP is leading a planning effort to make the area around the future JW Clay Transit station a more...

Our 2016 Annual Report chronicles a landmark year

The dramatic changes taking place across University City can be hard to keep up with - unless you have the University City Partners annual report. Our brand new 2016 University City Partners Annual Report chronicles these changes over the past year (July 2015-June...

University City Partners welcomes new board members

University City Partners welcomes four new members to its board of directors, including two UNC Charlotte grads. Tracy Dodson with Lincoln Harris, John McAlister with Electrolux, Phil Nicholenko with TIAA and Jane Wu, founder of Carolina States Regional Center, have...

Thanks for taking our survey; we heard you!

Our recent invitation to take a brief survey about University City Partners drew more than 100 participants and many useful responses. ”The survey was like a pulse check to make sure that what we are hearing in our meetings also represents the opinions of all of the...

University City Partners adds planning & development director

Tobe Holmes has joined University City Partners as its planning and development director. Holmes, formerly with Center City Partners, will oversee all UCP planning and development initiatives. At Center City Partners, Holmes managed economic and community development...

Meet our UNC Charlotte interns

One benefit of having UNC Charlotte nearby is the amazing wealth of student interns. We landed three of the best this semester: Meredith Avant (Communications with PR concentration), Miguel Avila (Economics with innovation focus), and Charles Trowell (Architecture...