Winners of the 2012 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge

Three high school seniors from Texas have designed an external pacemaker that may help reduce heart atrophy in astronauts as they orbit the Earth. "After 180 days in space, astronauts' muscles lose 40% of their capacity for physical work," writes Camilo Ruiz, a senior at Cinco Ranch High School in Katy, Texas, who designed the "SPacemaker" along with two other Cinco Ranch students.

Ruiz's team, The Moonwalking Manakins, is one of four that grabbed top honors at the annual Spirit of Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the Conrad Foundation, a non-profit aimed at sparking student interest in science, engineering and entrepreneurship.

Each of the four winning teams will receive a $5,000 grant to continue product development, a one-year membership in the international research society Sigma Xi and additional mentoring from scientists and business leaders, not to mention a trip to the NASA-Ames Research Center, where the winners were announced. The competition fields entries in three categories: aerospace exploration, clean energy and health and nutrition and was founded in 2008 by Nancy Conrad, an education activist and the widow of Apollo 12 astronaut and entrepreneur Pete Conrad. The next entry deadline is in the fall of 2012.