International Space Station
A stolen NASA laptop contained security codes to the International Space Station. It was one of 48 laptops stolen between April 2009 and April 2011.Reuters

The winners of the third annual NASA-sponsored Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge have been announced and at the top of the list are Alliance Rocket, from the United States and virtual participants Alliance CyberAvo from Europe.

The competition involved more than 35 student teams from different countries.

Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition at which students must write programming code for Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites or SPHERES, which are spherical satellites (the size a of bowling ball) located aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The students will program these spheres to compete in an obstacle course. The selected teams will send their codes to the space station where the astronauts onboard will transmit those codes and commands to the satellites.

"It is just amazing to me what these high school students have accomplished," said Charles Bolden, an Administrator at NASA, adding, "To program a robotic spacecraft with the precision of a NASA flight controller is quite a feat, but to have that ability, talent and discipline at such a young age is remarkable. Our future is in good hands."

The Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge was sponsored both by NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The primary goal of the competition is to encourage students to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).