The future for Irish space exploration is safe, considering the remarkable achievement of four secondary school students from Athlone, Co Westmeath.

They have taken top prize at the European Space Agency (ESA) CanSat international competition after constructing a tiny satellite the size of a fizzy drink can.

Boldly going where no group of Irish students has gone before, Paul McGrath, Pádraig McDermott, Usman Riaz, and Sebastian Klosowski beat stiff competition from 17 other countries to take the top honours in the annual contest.

A ESA initiative, the competition fosters an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) careers by offering students a hands-on experience of a space-themed project. 

The final was held on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores.

Eighteen teams participated in the European finals this year: The winners of the CanSat national competitions from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Nordic (joint competition by Finland, Sweden, and Norway), Portugal, Poland, Romania, Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, as well a team from Hungary selected directly by ESA.

Ireland has performed well in recent European finals, placing third and second in 2016 and 2017, respectively, but this year’s victory marks the first time Ireland has brought home the gold.

Called Taistealaí, the Irish word for traveller, the winning CanSat developed by the students from Marist College in Athlone uses sensors to seek out planets that can support life.

The students were joined by their teacher, Georgina Clear, who was thrilled with her team’s performance.

“The lads are absolutely delighted,” she said. “Everyone here at Marist College is incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved. 

"Even in the height of the competition, the spirit of co-operation and comradery between the teams was inspiring.

“It really drove home the collaborative nature of these kind of enterprises, and how it can bring people from all backgrounds together.

“I cannot recommend the CanSat competition enough. Beyond the obvious benefit of teaching STEM skills to students, it has taught our team about project management, teamwork, and outreach.”

Alan Giltinan, of CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, the national co-ordinator of CanSat Ireland, was delighted.

He said: “It is a testimony to all their hard work and dedication and a fantastic achievement for the students, staff, mentors, and everyone involved.”

“The CanSat programme brings this vision together by combining many aspects of STEM while incorporating vital career elements such as presentation skills and information interpretation.

“By winning the European final, the students have highlighted that Ireland has a student base well equipped for STEM and space careers, such as the emerging news space sector.”

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