From Highschooler to Winner of NASA Lunabotics Challenge

by Shriya Sawant, Atlanta, USA


My name is Shriya Sawant, a rising sophomore in Atlanta, GA. My hobbies include reading, writing, and learning about new things. For the past few years, I have had a deep interest in robotics, a versatile field with applications in every discipline of science and engineering. Despite my many passions, I am always inspired the most when I look up at the stars. I see the astronauts on the International Space Station and aerospace engineers as my role models, and I hope to join the field one day. I am proud to say that I am the national winner of the NASA Lunabotics challenge winner in the 6th-12 grade category. Today, I would like to share with you my story about this achievement.

The Contest

I learned about the challenge back in January 2022 through the NASA website and was fascinated by the contest’s topic, so I immediately decided to participate in it. In this contest, participants were asked to write a 150-word max. essay and submit up to 6 pictures of a design of a robot, at most 3.5 feet x 2 feet x 2 feet, that could collect and transport lunar regolith (soil) to a storage container near a hypothetical moon base. Regolith could be used for a plethora of purposes, such as harvesting water, oxygen, metals, and minerals, and producing lunar concrete as a construction material for future buildings.

Through this challenge, I learned all about the engineering design process. I am enrolled in my school’s CTAE (Georgia public high schools’ Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education program.) engineering pathway, where I have learned how to conduct proper research, the steps of the engineering design process, and to format blueprint drawings. I applied this knowledge to the creation of my entry.

Research and Development

Before starting on my design, I conducted extensive research to ensure the robot’s success on the lunar surface.

Collecting Regolith

The initial challenge was how the robot was to best collect and transport the regolith. For my design I utilized a spinning bucket drum, where clockwise rotations scoop up soil and counterclockwise releases the material (Figures 1 & 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Enduring the Lunar Environment

There were many additional design considerations and challenges reflecting the unique lunar environment entries needed to address.

First, since the moon does not possess an atmosphere like the Earth, there is absolutely nothing to protect a robot from space radiation or the sun’s heat, with the lunar surface possessing a temperature range of -173 to 127 Celsius.

Next, the robot also needed to be able to safely traverse the rocky and crater-pocked terrain and operate in lower gravity, the moon holding only about one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity.

Another challenge was that the robot needed to effectively mitigate the effects of lunar dust that could be kicked up by a moving robot. Lunar dust is abrasive and clingy to surfaces due to it being electrostatically charged, which could jam moving parts of the robot or interfere with internal hardware.

I also needed to determine the best power sources for the robot to use and the method of navigation, as in the robot being remotely controlled by a human or itself making autonomous decisions.

It was important to research the right materials to include in the robot’s design as well. I incorporated many old methods and new inventions into the design. Aluminum alloys were used in the lunar rover of the Apollo missions, and are the casing of my robot as the material is known for its strength and wide temperature range that could withstand the moon’s surface. The most suitable wheels for lunar terrain were a recent innovation, Nitinol Spring Tires, which are highly elastic and utilize shape memory to ‘mold’ around objects it runs over and then retain its original shape, avoiding punctures. As mentioned before, the method of regolith collection was a spinning bucket drum inspired by the RASSOR 2.0 robot. A familiar item in my design would be Mylar space blankets, from its widespread commercial use in marathons and first aid due to its property of insulating and reflecting heat and radiation, but the shiny material was also used on the old Skylab space station as a replacement for a lost heat shield during launch. (Figures 3, 4, 5, and 6)

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6


My robot went through many design revisions to best meet the requirements of the challenge. Halfway through my entry, I realized that solar panels couldn’t be my robot’s main source of power since there could be a possibility of kicked-up lunar dust coating the panel and blocking energy, so instead, I switched it over to rechargeable batteries.

Submission of Entry

Completing my entry in the challenge took a lot of patience and determination to submit the best possible design I could make before the deadline. I had at least 7 designs which I thought were the final design before I edited something in them, and even today I know that my design can always be improved.

Throughout this project, the main criteria I asked myself about the robot was: How much regolith could the robot hold while maintaining stability? How effective was the method used to collect regolith? How could I best prolong the machine’s life expectancy? My goal was to maximize the amount of regolith the robot could collect and transport time-efficiently with a reasonably low risk of failure. With so many factors to consider in my entry, I ended up submitting it on the night before the contest deadline.

Result of the contest

Then there was the impatient wait until the announcement of the results. They announced the semifinalists, finalists, and winners in one week intervals. When I got the text that I had won, I was ecstatic! I did not know what to expect, but I am happy to have gone this far in the challenge and am proud of the amount of work and time I had invested into my entry.

My Message

My message to my fellow readers is to have patience and persistence. Never give up on your goals and what you firmly believe in. Trust the power of research and strategic planning to accomplish success.


1. My full entry, (RAD: Regolith Accretion Device):

2. NASA’s press release on the Lunabotics Junior Challenge:

3. NASA’s interview of me here:


I am grateful for my parent’s continuous support and allowing me to have the freedom to explore my own passions and activities, and for the amazing people at NASA for continuing to inspire young generations to explore the world of science and engineering.

My future plans

I wholeheartedly enjoyed participating in this contest. It left a significant impact on me and furthered my passion to pursue a career in robotics and aerospace engineering in the future.

About the Author:

Shriya Sawant is a sophomore in Atlanta, GA. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and learning about new things. she has an interest in robotics and sees the astronauts on the International Space Station and aerospace engineers as her role models.  She is a national winner of the NASA Lunabotics challenge winner in the 6th-12 grade category.


  1. Shriya: Let me the first one to congratulate you on your tremendous success. It is not easy to win the first prize in a contest sponsored by NASA, where thousands of children of your age from all over the US participate. This is a very commendable attempt, for which you, your parents, relatives and me are very proud.

    Laddu Aajoba and Aaji

  2. Congragulations,Kudos to your work.

  3. Shubhangi Kotwal

    Congratulations 🎉 to you Shriya Sawant for your achievement at this early age . Thanks for such an informative article . Wishing you good luck for your future endeavours.

  4. Congratulations Shriya !! You have an amazing mind and spirit , we are so proud of you.Wish you all the best for all your future endeavours.