Once again the imaginations of
many space exploration enthusiasts are running full throttle with the two
recent high-profiled launches of Boeing Delta II rockets carrying
six-wheeled robot rovers bound for Mars.

Terraformers decked in space suits trekking across the desert sand on the
Red Planet to reach a bio-domed habitat they call home seems more plausible
for some these days. Especially for 96 high school teenagers who are using
the successful NASA Mars missions for inspiration as they prepare for the 10th
Annual International Space Settlement Design Competition at Kennedy Space
Center, Fla.

A team of students from Clear Creak High School is joining seven other
high school finalist teams from Colorado, California, Florida, Texas, Maryland
and Australia in a competition to design a Mars settlement.

The Clear Creak team from League City, Texas is representing the state for
the fourth time during the competition, which runs from July 12-14. The local
nine-member team has alternate students from Cypress Fairbanks, Memorial and
Carnegie Vanguard high schools. Boeing NASA Systems, headquartered in Houston
and a business unit of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, is the team’s

The competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics (AIAA), an organization dedicated to advancing the arts,
sciences, and aeronautics and astronautics technology. Anita Gale,
competition co-founder and a Shuttle engineer for Boeing says, “This
competition provides an avenue for students to showcase their creativity and
ingenuity, and in return shows the students what it is like to work in the
aerospace industry.”

During the three-day international meet, the eight teams will be paired,
given corporate identities and asked to compete with other paired teams to
prepare the best design proposal. Each paired team will act as an independent
aerospace company vying for a contract with the AIAA to design a settlement on

Individuals work within a realistic industry organizational chart, and
space industry professionals volunteer to serve as “CEO” of each of the
fictional companies for the competition. The CEOs help the teams to remain
focused on the task and work within specified industry parameters.

The contest emulates, as closely as possible, the experience of working on
an industry proposal team with participants utilizing engineering, technical
and management skills. And not unlike the engineering wizardry that created
the Mars rovers and the Delta rockets that launched them, the students have to
use sound science to support their design.

“Designs must meet the test of staying within the bounds of anticipated
technology and obeying the laws of physics,” says Gale. “Realism is
emphasized, so not only must proposals include descriptions of the structure
and amenities for the people living at the settlement but also cost and
scheduling estimates for construction.

“And just as in real life, the students work with people they just met,
argue over technical issues, disagree with management. They will work hard,
get tired, and have fun,” she adds.

Students have access to such resources as technical papers, computers and
a library to develop their design proposals as well as volunteer structural,
operations, and human and automation engineering advisors from the industry.

To qualify for the international competition, student teams submitted
proposals earlier this year for a space settlement orbiting in the asteroid
belt between Mars and Jupiter. The written entries were reviewed and judged
by engineers from AIAA.

Proposal designs for this competition will be judged for thoroughness,
credibility, balance and innovation by a panel of industry experts. Each
member of the winning team will receive a trophy, engraved medal and a

Though many of the design concepts that result from the competition may be
ahead of their time, students walk away with not only a sense of
accomplishment but also of new found self-appreciation. “Many students make
decisions about education, career and life based on their competition
experiences,” says Gale.

Sultana Ali, an alumna of the international competition who has a degree
in international business marketing, credits the contest with helping to put
her life into perspective. Ali says her life was difficult during her high
school years, and when she decided to participate in the competition as a
senior, it gave her purpose and direction.

As a result of her experience, she is now a competition mentor for
students at her old high school. “I did not have the best self-esteem,
although I felt like I was intelligent and capable. I was afraid of being a
failure,” says Ali. “But the competition showed me what I was truly capable
of doing, and I went on that year to receive two academic scholarships for
college. Now I try to give back what I received by encouraging contest

Gale says Ali’s story is just one of many. “The competition teaches more
than just mechanics; it teaches young people how to find their inner

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is one of
the world’s largest space and defense businesses. Headquartered in St. Louis,
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $25 billion business. It provides
systems solutions to its global military, government and commercial customers.
It is a leading provider of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; the
world’s largest military aircraft manufacturer; the world’s largest satellite
manufacturer and a leading provider of space-based communications; the primary
systems integrator for U.S. missile defense; NASA’s largest contractor; and a
global leader in launch services.