A team of three Black girls from D.C.’s Benjamin Banneker Academic High School—Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff—was excited to enter the NASA Goddard‘s Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge (OPSPARC) student competition to win a trip to NASA.

Their project, IN3-Incubator Program, aimed to create a filtration jar that will filter water continuously and detect pH imbalances to purify public school water systems. The winners were to be decided by a public vote, and a day before voting was set to end IN3-Incubator Program was in the lead with a 78% percent vote.

However, the competition’s overseers closed the public voting a day early, citing “attempts… made to corrupt the Public Choice voting for Grades 9-12,” and as a result they “ended this stage of voting early for that category”. The public voting scores were taken down.

Many online had mobilized to vote for the IN3-Incubator Program as the leading project in support of the girls, something that was not clearly prohibited. The site’s update currently states that the competition overseers “have an accurate record of the voting results prior to the attempted disruption” and the “top three Public Choice teams in each category will be notified and recognized on the Challenge website.” The voting system has now been updated so that a panel of NASA GODDARD judges will choose the first place runners based on a set of rubrics.

People are rallying around the girls to show support at what many consider unfair treatment. A GoFundMe fundraiser was created to support the D.C. team called “Hidden Figures 2018” and states: “The ladies of Black Women Who Plan and Create (BWWPC) requested to put together a GoFundMe to present these three young ladies the opportunity to reach and achieve their destinies. Join us as we help these three young girls plan and execute the skills and support they need to reach for the stars and TRULY #bethespark.”

Others are contacting NASA Goddard directly to voice their displeasure. The contact information listed on the website is as follows:

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Strategic Partnerships Office
8800 Greenbelt Road
Code 102
Greenbelt, MD 20771
NASA Official: Darryl Mitchell