A stampede of high school student inventors will take over Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex March 7-9 for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Southeast Regional Robotics Competition.

The 2002 competition is expected to be the largest ever with more than 600 teams from Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and nearly every state in the U.S. taking part in various regional competitions. Thousands of these students, grouped into nearly 50 teams, will compete against each other at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to get recognition for their designs.

“We are once again excited to host the FIRST Robotics Competition here at KSC. This event showcases the talents of students through math and science, and displays their creativity and enthusiasm,” said Roy Bridges, KSC Director. “We are proud of these students and hope some will decide to become our future engineers and scientists.”

Students use the first day for practice, inspection and final machine work, with the following two days featuring the fierce, action-packed robotics competition and an awards ceremony.

Thirteen of the 28 Florida teams are co-sponsored by NASA at KSC. Local competing teams include students from Astronaut, Bayside, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Palm Bay, Rockledge, Satellite, Titusville, and West Shore high schools.

With the hope of winning part of the $1.7 million in scholarships from leading educational institutions and companies, students spend six weeks before the regional contests working with professional mentors to design and construct a robot until it reaches perfection. FIRST provides the teams with a standard set of rules and a kit of assorted parts to assemble their creations.

Zone Zeal, this year’s theme, calls for students to design the robots to race around a playing field gathering balls, putting the balls into goals, and placing those goals in their scoring zone in less than two minutes.

The winning teams, from 17 regional competitions, will meet at the Championship Event to be held at EPCOT Center in Orlando, Fla., April 25-27.

The goal of FIRST is to introduce professional mentors from schools, businesses and universities to the students in the hopes of providing an exchange of resources and talent while exposing students to new career.

Information is also available at the FIRST Web site: www.usfirst.org .