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Welcome to the Space Design Competitions – unique, impactful, and exhilarating space STEAM-a-thon events that get you conceptually designing space habitats for up to 80 years in the future…
This article will introduce you to the competitions and what we’re all about here at the Space Science & Engineering Foundation.
Who runs the show?
The Space Design Competitions (SDCs) have been running since 1984, founded by NASA engineers with the sole purpose of providing 15-18-year-olds the opportunity to experience what industry life is like within the space sector.
Dr. Randall Perry, who sits on the board that governs the global framework of SDCs, introduced the event to the United Kingdom in 2008 before expanding the educational impact into Europe in 2019 and now into the Middle East. Dr. Perry established an education charity called the Space Science & Engineering Foundation (SSEF) to ensure that anyone could participate, regardless of background, gender, or socio-economic status. At times, he would pay out-of-pocket for qualifying participants to attend the World Finals (ISSDC) held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center each year.
By dint of the passion and dedication of a handful of full-time staff, as well as the generous support of sponsors and volunteers, around 36,000 young minds have thus far participated in these competitions. The vast majority have gone on to pursue a degree within STEAM–a degree which they then parlayed into a significant position in industry.
So what is the competition all about?
Overview: The SDC is an immersive 12-to 36-hour aerospace industry simulation. The Competition comprises regional heats, video competitions, an annual National Final (the UKSDC in the UK), a Regional Final (the EUSDC across Europe), and the annual World Final (ISSDC at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida).
The Challenge: The Competition challenges pupils to conceptually design and pitch a space settlement that answers to the requirements of a Request for Proposal (RFP), a fictional “contract” outlining the requirements of the settlement. The winners are those members of the company that performs best, based on multiple factors, such as most innovative design.
Structure: The participants are grouped into four fictional “companies.” They represent and collaborate within these companies to create a bid for the RFP contract. Each company offers leadership roles (Company President, VP, Heads of Departments, etc.) whom the students elect. Each company has a dedicated adult CEO whose role is strictly to advisethe Company President. Two roaming adult Technical Specialists are available to all companies for technical advice throughout the Competition.
Facilitation & Mentoring: Although staff and technical experts are present and play an active role as facilitators during the competition, the SDC is a student-led enterprise. Facilitators are told not to instruct, teach, or educate participants. Instead, they are encouraged to answer questions with questions and to offer tools to overcome the challenges participants face. This is especially important regarding internal conflict within companies–conflicts which the students try to resolve alone. Conflict resolution, of course, will be a valuable skill to have for any career thereafter.
How do the participants feel about it?
The students bear testament to the success of our programmes. Besides achieving a host of specific learning objectives, pupils have gained other personal benefits. These include increased confidence, awareness of their own strengths, an understanding of other people, a feeling of competence, and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Above all, they have fun!.
But how does all this happen in the space of a few short hours? Stay tuned for the next article which will dive deeper into one individual’s own experience!
- Want to get involved in this rapidly growing network of space education enthusiasts? Register your interest to volunteer here: eusdc.org/volunteer-registration
- Want to follow the news and events in the European context? Check out the EUSDC website here: eusdc.org
- Want to find out more about the organising charity? Check out the SSEF website here: ssef.org.uk