More than 150 students from throughout California have signed up to learn the intricacies of planning a space mission as part of the 12th annual Space Settlement Design Competition (Spaceset), to be held at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on April 4-6.
Sponsored by JPL Space Exploration Post 509, Spaceset aims to give both male and female students between the ages of 15 and 19 years old a chance to design, plan and present a detailed proposal for a space mission. This year's competition will involve the creation of a permanent human settlement on Mars in the year 2047, following last year's competition involving the creation of an orbiting colony around the red planet. The goal of the settlement will be the search for life on Mars, inspired by the 1996 discovery of a Martian meteorite reported to contain evidence of fossilized microbial life.
The JPL Scout post has been active for 25 years. Exploration posts are affiliated with a particular field such as aerospace or medicine in order to give young people a firsthand experience working within those vocations. A committee composed of scientists and engineers from JPL, Boeing and Berkeley Systems Inc. developed this year's competition, and will comprise the panel that will judge the submitted proposals.
Spaceset will begin on Friday, April 4, when the students are given a description of the competition and divided into five "companies," teams similar to actual aerospace companies. Companies will then divide up according to function, including human factors, automation, management, structures and dynamics involved in the successful completion of the project. The simulation will stress the importance of time restraints, creativity, organization and use of information in a mission proposal.
On Saturday, professional engineers and scientists from JPL and elsewhere will give technical presentations to the students, explaining in detail the crucial elements necessary in the creation of a successful mission proposal. Throughout the remainder of the day, students will use computers loaned by Compaq to create and design a Martian colony and prepare their mission proposals. Proposals will be judged on Sunday, when students will also be given a tour of the JPL facility.
"Spaceset shows young people the reality of how engineering projects are done," said Peter Mason, member of the JPL technical staff and chairman of the JPL Scout post's committee. "Students work through a systems design very much like engineers at JPL would, and Spaceset can help teach them how to set goals and organize themselves effectively to achieve those goals."