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Loudoun students compete in International Space Olympics

photoLoudoun County high school students pose in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow during a tour. From left to right: Kevin Readen, Zach Stoller, Austin Chung, Daniel Valenzuela, Sanjana Kurup and Alex Gagliano. Photo Courtesy/Loudoun County Public Schools.

Earlier this month, six lucky students from Loudoun County Public Schools to got board flights to Russia to compete in the 20th International Space Olympics.

The competitions were held Oct. 18-26, held in the city of Korolyov, headquarters of the Russian Federal Space Agency and RKK Energia, manufacturer of Russian spacecraft and space station components.

The two-week trip consisted of tours, competitive presentations and tests taken by students from eight different countries – the United States, Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and Sweden.

The six made various presentations on topics relevant to space travel:

  • Alex Gagliano won 1st place in the category of astrophysics (presenting in the second round), 4th place overall in scientific paper presentations
  • Austin Chung won 1st place in the category of space history and policy (presenting in the second round), 5th place overall in scientific paper presentations
  • Kevin Readen won 2nd place in the category of astrophysics
  • Sanjana Kurup won 2nd place in biology
  • Zach Stoller won 2nd place in space technology
  • Daniel Valenzuela won 4th place in biology, 20th place overall in scientific paper presentations

Alexander Gagliano, a senior attending the Academy of Science at Stone Bridge High School, won first place in the astrophysics category presenting on extrasolar planetary detection with gravitational lensing.

It’s a method of detecting planets outside our solar system by watching how life refracts off of them.

“We could determine different celestial objects based on how different light is lensed around them,” Alex said.

Zach Stoller, a senior at the Academy of Science at Broad Run High School, won second place in space technology for a presentation about which metals on spaceships are resistant to vibration when entering and exiting Earth’s atmosphere.

“The vibration can sometimes mess up the instruments’ calibrations,” Zach said. “The idea is to make sure the frequency range of the material is wide enough that they can manipulate it around [the vibrations].”

They also had a test heavily based on the Russian education system in math, science and creative writing.

The students also toured Moscow, visiting many of the city’s famous spots – Red Square, the Kremlin, former KGB headquarters and the Moscow bazaar, where they learned to barter over items for sale with calculators.

“They had a lot of Soviet stuff because they couldn’t wear them anymore, so they would just sell them off to tourists,” Zach said.

Kevin Readen, a senior at the Briar Woods High School Academy of Science, bought a heavy Soviet military coat and Soviet air force pins for his father.

“It looked like it had actually been used,” Kevin said.

They also saw nesting dolls of President Barack Obama and a chess set that featured Soviet prime ministers against American presidnts with Cuba as the board.

“You’d see a bunch of medals and they’d look like they’d actually been worn,” said Daniel Valenzuela, a senior at Dominion High School’s Academy of Science.

The group also visited the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Mission Control and talk to astronauts on the International Space Station.

The six took part in planting trees for the 55th anniversary of Sputnik’s launch, which went mostly unnoticed in the United States as Sandy traveled up the east coast.

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