Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate students working with Draper Laboratory on a prototype lunar hopper vehicle took first place in a NASA-sponsored contest meant to help the U.S. space agency find new ideas for exploring the solar system.

The MIT graduate students won the 2010 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) contest with a concept for using Draper’s lunar hopper vehicle to explore Mars as a precursor to human missions. Draper is a member of the Next Giant Leap team competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Graduate students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, teaming with the University of Virginia, took second place. In the undergraduate category, the University of Maryland, in collaboration with Arizona State University, took top honors. The University of Colorado, Boulder came in second.

The winners were announced June 9 in Cocoa Beach, Fla.