HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — High school and college students from 20 states and eight countries are testing their STEM skills in Huntsville this weekend.

NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC) is being held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. This is the 29th year for the event, but the first time it has been held in person since 2019, due to COVID-19.

The challenge involves the students working together in teams to develop, design, build and test human-powered rovers.

The rovers must meet certain requirements, such as being able to convert down to fit in a five-by-five-foot box.

“Teams are not allowed to buy wheels, they have to make their own wheels,” Christopher Blair, a Public Affairs Officer for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said. “They can’t be air-filled pneumatic, so wheels we’ve seen, some are 3D printed, some are plastic or rubber hoses.”

When it is each team’s turn to run the course, they must pass a safety inspection.

They then steer their rover through the obstacle course.

A team encountered an obstacle in their rover on the obstacle course.

“Our obstacle course is designed to simulate lunar terrain, martial terrain, and other things found on planetary bodies throughout the solar system,” Blair said.

News 19 spoke with a senior at Bledsoe County High School in Tennessee, Cassidy Newby about their rover.

She said prior to taking it in the course the team was worried about the weight.

“We’re just worried we don’t have enough power because we’re a very heavy rover,” Newby said. “We’re 1080 steel, weighing probably close to 200 pounds.”

Nevertheless, she said the team planned to give it their all on the obstacle course. “We’re going to try to attempt everything that we can,” she said.

News 19 also spoke to members of the “Apollo 27” team. They are a group of college students from the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology, in the Dominican Republic.

“We made a really long trip to get here,” said one of the team members, Eduardo Ortega.

Ortega and fellow teammate, Faisya Acantara, told News 19 it took four plane rides to get to Huntsville, but they were very excited to take part in the challenge.

We spoke to them after they had gone through the obstacle course. “We think that our design is capable of much more,” Ortega said.

“We’re making the appropriate improvements and adjustments to get the fullest out of the robustness that we designed into the vehicle,” he said.

“I think we did really good for being our first-time” Acantara added.

Students participating in the HERC event have eight months to work on their rovers.

“It’s been a very arduous process,” Ortega said. “In the background, the things we don’t see is countless nights of research and trial and error.”

Ortega is studying aerospace engineering and Acantara is studying biomedical engineering. The pair told News 19 that being part of the HERC is exciting, but it’s also a way to represent their country.

“In the Dominican Republic there isn’t much focus on STEM activities and we want to change the perception of what success is in our country,” Ortega said. “It’s not just being a musician or a baseball player you can also be a scientist or an engineer, an astronomer and make it far and wide.”

He explained that their team name “Apollo 27” is inspired by two things.

“The Apollo missions, the pioneers, the people who inspired us to be involved in space exploration and activities like this,” he said. “And 27, because the 27th of February is the independence day of the Dominican Republic” he continued.

Day one of the challenge wrapped up around 4:00 p.m. on Friday. Day two runs all day on Saturday, capped off by an award ceremony in the evening.

The public is invited and encouraged to attend the free event, Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.