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| January 2019 |

The Montana Learning Center has been selected by NASA to host the Apollo 50th Next Giant Leap Student Challenge for Montana

The Montana Learning Center, located at Canyon Ferry Lake outside of Helena, has been chosen as one of 14 institutions nationwide as regional hubs for Apollo 50th Next Giant Leap Student Challenge, a competition for middle school and high school students. The aeronautics, engineering and robotics competition is hosted by NASA and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, a collaborative K-12 education effort based at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“The Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake is known across the state as a premier center for kids’ camps and teacher training that are STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) based. Being a hub for the NASA challenge shines a national light on our nonprofit, our programs and the good work that we do,” said Ryan Hannahoe, executive director of the Montana Learning Center.

The competition recreates the challenges that faced the Apollo 11 moon landing. Each team will need to create a replica of the Apollo Lunar Module that will be landed with a remote controlled drone on a map of the lunar surface. The student challenge manual is to be available Feb. 1 online at and details the challenge and equipment to be used.

Registration for the 25 middle school teams and 25 high school teams begins Feb. 1 and closes March 30. According to the competition manual, teams are required to be affiliated with an organization such as a school, library, museum, after-school program or club. Registration and regional hub information can also be found online at The Montana Learning Center will give preference to teams from Montana, Hannahoe said, although teams from other states will be accepted if Montana teams do not fill all of the openings.

“NASA’s Apollo Next Giant Leap Student Challenge is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Montana students with a focus on aeronautics, robotics, and programming,” Hannahoe said. “This program offers Montana students a rare and exciting opportunity to participate in a NASA program that allows them to use the latest technologies to explore, inspire, create and achieve.”

Helping to sponsor the competition held at the Montana Learning Center are the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, the Montana Office of Public Instruction, Montana State University, Montana Space Grant Consortium and the Montana Learning Center.

Requests for sponsorships from other organizations are pending at this time, Hannahoe said.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering to help with the competition or to become a sponsor may contact Hannahoe by email at or by phone at (406) 475-3638.

Each team will consist of five members plus an adult advisor and will travel to the Montana Learning Center for the competition. Fifth through eighth grade students in the middle school teams will compete on July 20 and the high school student teams will compete on July 19. Lead judges of the Montana competition will be Jennifer Fowler, assistant director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium and Chris Gillette, a former Allegiant Airlines chief pilot.

The Montana Learning Center will award the top middle school team and advisor a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with timing arranged by the team. The top high school team will receive a trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 7-9. Each trip is valued at $6,000.

There is no cost to enter but teams will have to provide for the equipment they will need in addition to travel costs, Hannahoe said. Scholarships to fully fund up to 24 teams are available through the Montana Learning Center that will cover equipment costs, lodging at the Montana Learning Center and a coaching stipend. Each of the $1,750 team scholarships will be focused on under-served and under-represented groups in Montana, Hannahoe added.

“This is one of three programs we host for NASA. We’ve really started incorporating them in our work in the last three years and it really keeps growing. So I’m really excited about this,” said Hannahoe whose background is in astronomy and who was a NASA intern while attending Montana State University in Bozeman.

The Montana Learning Center also participates in the Western Aerospace Scholars’ Montana Aerospace Scholars program through the Museum of Flight in Seattle and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline. The Montana Aerospace Scholars program is open to Montana high school sophomore and junior students and provides distance-learning courses designed in partnership with NASA and the University of Washington. Students also spend time learning at the Montana Learning Center.

The Western Aerospace Scholars program has had more than 1,500 high school students complete the program in the last 10 years, Hannahoe said, noting that this is the third year of the Montana Learning Center’s involvement.

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