Team FrostByte Aims to Make Science Cool in Des Moines

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UPDATE: Team FrostByte advanced to the next round of the NASA App Development Challenge! The team interviews with NASA next week for the chance to head to Houston in April! FrostByte is the only Iowa team in the challenge.

In a small classroom at North High School, five students who call themselves Team FrostByte have been spending most of their free time for the last two months developing an app to visualize mission planning for an expedition to the moon. The result will be a complex entry into the national NASA App Development Challenge.

“It was very intimidating for all of us initially, but going through it we realize these things are possible,” said team member and North junior Champ-Pacifique Mukiza.

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The challenge requires teams to examine the South Pole region of the moon, use lunar terrain data, and display information for an astronaut’s navigation and communication.

Mukiza and his teammates — North juniors Sujal Pokhrel and Jefrey Allen, Virtual Campus junior Moss Louvan, and North sophomore Romas Pokhrel are the only Iowans to create a submission for NASA’s challenge.

“Given the data from NASA, we collaborate, problem-solve, and create, putting our love of technology, science, and math together,” said Pokhrel.

On Friday afternoon, they met one of the challenge goals of sharing their work with the community — in this case, a high school library packed with parents, teachers, school administration, the superintendent, and school board members.

The audience member most appreciated by Team FrostByte was teacher and sponsor Jessica Nunes, in her third year of teaching at North, who volunteered her extra time to make sure they were fully supported.

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“I am over the moon proud of them,” Nunes said. “All of them have dedicated passion and relentlessness in tackling something that you could almost say they weren’t even ready for, but they found a way to make it happen.”

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Mukiza said he has lost track of the hours the team has spent on the project, but it took a lot of coordination of schedules and sacrifice.

“My favorite thing is seeing everything come together. Everything in between has been ups and downs. Through this project I’ve learned how to see the end goal even when things are challenging in the moment.”

The project is due on Wednesday this week, but Mukiza said win or lose, the team isn’t finished yet. They are open to speaking to elementary and middle school students about the opportunities available in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. He said he and his teammates had to discover the NASA challenge before they could consider participating. He wants to reveal similar opportunities to other DMPS students.

“It’s hard to think of a color that you’ve never seen,” he said. “It’s hard to think of an opportunity or a journey for your own life that you didn’t know exists.”

Which makes Team FrostByte all the more inspirational.

“We’ve said that they are walking an unlit path because no one has lit it before them,” said Nunes. “Now, they’re the ones lighting the way.”

The team should learn in the next few weeks if they will be invited to Houston to give their presentation in person. We wish them the best of luck.

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