Carnegie Mellon University
January 14, 2021

Moonshot Receives Software Engineering Project Excellence Award

By Jen Potter

In December the Moonshot studio team became the first recipients of the Software Engineering Project Excellence Award. Established in 2017 by the Master of Software Engineering (MSE) Professional Programs faculty, the award recognizes the exceptional performance of a project or practicum team across all practice areas, and the development of new knowledge. Each member of the team — Mohonish Chakraborty, Jiawu Li, Daniel Myers, and Vaithyanathan Narayanan — received a trophy. At a later date, their names and project will be etched onto the Wall of Fame plaque in the hallway outside the primary classroom.

For their capstone project, Moonshot was tasked with the design and implementation of the ground console processes; visualizations; engineering oversight; data displays; and command and control processes that manage and operate the mission for the MoonRanger robot. In the past, planetary rovers have been huge, slow, isotope-heated, and directed solely by humans. By contrast, MoonRanger, currently in development at the Robotics Institute and spinoff Astrobotic, will be small, fast, and autonomous while maintaining support from a ground control team.

In a very challenging year that prevented studio and practicum teams from working together in person, Moonshot found a way to not only survive, but thrive, reaching above and beyond the project brief.

After the End of Semester Presentations (EOSP) in August, which serves as a checkpoint in the capstone project, William “Red” Whittaker, Founders University Research Professor and one of the project sponsors, was over the moon with the work accomplished to date by the team. The Moonshot team “created such a great foundation and early results from something that started as a tentative whisper of an idea. The great outcome is that [the team] gave life, form and foundation to this important work." 

MSE faculty member Eduardo Miranda presented the team with the award, saying, “the work they have done has been recognized by their sponsors, their mentors, and voted by all of the practice leads. We we all convinced that Moonshot is a very deserving team.” 

Project mentors Sebastian Echeverria, Senior Engineer at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), and Cliff Huff, technical staff at the SEI, were thrilled with the work accomplished by the team. During the awards ceremony Huff, who has worked with 28 MSE teams since becoming a mentor in 1995, told the award recipients, “You can be proud that you’re the first. We look forward to seeing your work in action on the moon a couple of years from now.” Echeverria added, “I’m sure you will do great in whatever future endeavors you pursue. Thank you for your great work.”

Project sponsor Heather Jones, Senior Project Scientist at The Robotics Institute, stated that it was “an honor to have worked with the first Hall of Fame award winners. They were a great team. In this very challenging year, with everything shifting to virtual, they not only got through it, they thrived. It’s been great to see what they’ve been able to accomplish. Their work is going to be a great part of how we talk to our rover on the moon in 2022. Thanks to the team and the mentors, it was great to have your involvement at our team meetings and the Moonranger preliminary design review. Your involvement helped out on other aspects of the project. This has been a great experience for us.”

Congratulations Mohonish, Jiawu, Dan, and Vaithy!