Cleanup Crew: Students build robot to clean world’s largest satellite dish

MERCEDES — A small group of high school students from Weslaco has begun the sophisticated task of designing and building a robot that will clean what’s known as the largest satellite dish in the world.

The Arecibo Observatory, which is more than 1,000 feet in diameter, has since the 1960s been responsible for many scientific discoveries, produced the world’s first direct image of an asteroid, used moon-bouncing transmissions and is perhaps better known for the Arecibo message — the 1974 attempt to communicate with possible extraterrestrial life by transmitting radio signals 25,000 light-years into space.

It was also prominently featured in the 1995 James Bond film, “GoldenEye.”

Still, resting in a sinkhole surrounded by the humid tropical fauna of Puerto Rico, some 40,000 aluminum panels on the famed observatory have collected so much algae and debris that its prompted concerns that the data it collects may not be accurate.

Enter the Weslaco school district.

Students from Weslaco East and Weslaco High schools, under the instruction of self-described roboticist Heriberto Reynoso of Reybotics in Mercedes, have been tasked with creating a complex maintenance system that will clean the observatory’s panels and ensure its uncompromised function.

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