Fifteen Years of NASA Student Space Settlement Design Contests: Some Lessons 2008-01-2202
Since 1994, the NASA Ames Research Center has hosted an annual space settlement design contest for 6-12th grade students. Thousands of students and hundreds of teachers from around the world have involved themselves in space settlement, including environmental and life support systems, some devoting months of intense effort. Prize winners now find themselves at Harvard, Stanford, MIT and other top universities, and at least one flew a zero-gravity experiment for the European Space Agency (ESA).
Contestants work at home and send their entries to NASA Ames each March. Extensive reference materials are supplied on the web. All entries are judged on a single day by a panel of NASA and contractor scientists and engineers. In 2007, the Ames center director, Pete Worden, was a judge. Many categories are created to generate a large number of winners and every attempt is made to reward entries that show serious effort with some sort of prize. All winners are invited to visit NASA Ames in June. This allows us to meet many of the best contestants and has led to a number of collaborations resulting in published technical papers.1-4 The contest is administered by a single, very part time public school teacher at a total cost of $3-6 per contestant.
Key lessons-learned include:
A small fraction of students become deeply involved in these projects.
A single enthusiastic teacher can make a huge difference.
The web can deliver top quality educational materials world-wide at trivial cost.