NASA/NSS Space Settement Contest: Participant Testimonials

Contest winners rejoice
8th grade students at Cortland Junior Senior High School, Cortland, New York, rejoice at the news that they tied for first place in the large group 8th grade category in the 2015 NASA/NSS Space Settlement Contest.



Stephanie Passeri-Densmore, a teacher at Cortland Junior Senior High School, Cortland, New York, reports that her Congressman, Richard Hanna, “asked his staff to have my students’ 1st place tie in the 6th-8th grade division put in the Congressional Record! In June, he came to my school and handed out the kids’ award certificates and watched their PowerPoint presentation that summarizes their project for this year’s contest. He also asked the students specific questions on the content, and I was very relieved and gratified that they answered everything correctly even though they had done the project several months earlier.”


Passeri-Densmore supplied the Congressman’s office with the following information:

“My 8th grade English class students started competing in the NASA Space Settlement Contest in March 1999. That year and every year since, they have always won 1st, 2nd, or 3rd prize. My students come up with new entries every year. The students choose their own small groups that tackle specific topics needed for the survival of an orbital space settlement. The groups communicate during the process to make sure the different sections coordinate smoothly when they are put together at the end. The students are able to choose the shape and location of the settlements. Most years, the students have chosen to put their settlement in the LaGrange 5 position between Earth and the Moon or in orbit around Mars. Research information the students use comes from both NASA-suggested websites and their own internet searches.

“ I believe that there are several reasons for my students’ continued success. One is that I provide an appropriate amount of class time and structure so that my students can collaborate with each other efficiently and effectively. In addition, Al Globus and his staff at NASA Ames Research Center do a great job making the contest website very informative and student-friendly. Also, my school has well-maintained computer labs, and my administrators support my endeavors. Most of all, the topic of working and living in space is extremely motivational and very timely. For example, in 1999, my students read research on topics, such as solar power satellites, that were just ideas or early plans. Now there are private companies, such as SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace, that are already starting to implement some of the activities that were just ‘on the drawing board’ a decade or so ago. Moreover, in this contest, students get to apply their knowledge from many subjects with their creativity and research and communications skills. According to their post-project reflection comments, my students are challenged more than they have ever been but amaze themselves by what they manage to do.

“Several of my former students are actually involved in space-related professions or university programs because they became so excited by their participation in the NASA space settlement contest. They know they are on the threshold of a whole new phase of human activity.”


This contest had brought knowledge that I can never forget. At first no one knew we could even finish the submission and send it. But we were determined and many hard working days later, after many arguments made and also many mistakes, we completed the submission. We believed in ourselves that this year we will surely will win. We don’t know how to thank everyone who helped us, without the help of our teachers,friends,and our parents this submission would not even be possible. And finally we would thank everyone working to keep this contest up and running. Now I am pursuing my career to be an Aerospace Engineer and hope that one day free space settlements will be a reality.

— Sri Jishnu, Narayana Olympiad School, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

I did not become seriously interested in a career in space science until high school. In tenth grade, I competed in a space settlement competition sponsored by NASA-Ames Research Center. My “Space Station Terra Nova” won first prize in my age category. This gave me the opportunity to visit NASA Ames, and experience the bustle surrounding the landing of Pathfinder on Mars.

Catherine Neish, NASA Postdoctoral Fellow, Goddard Space Flight Center

When I came to know about this wonderful contest in 7th grade, I thought this was the most important opportunity for my first step in my space and space exploration career. The most interesting thing in this contest is the topic: it deals with space settlement which is the most challenging and something different. In my first attempt, I submitted a file of 11 pages, but didn’t win any prizes. Then I realized that this contest is very challenging and I obtained a lot of knowledge by reading the Grand Prize Winners’ submissions. I got some new ideas and began writing about an improved space settlement — Antarikshnivas. When I submitted my entry for Grade 8 I was hoping for a prize — not the first but even if it were an Honorable Mention it would be wonderful. I waited curiously for the results and at last they were posted on the 17th of March and with my fingers shaking I slowly dragged down to see whether I scored any prize and then I saw my name and happiness danced inside me. I just jumped and laughed and then showed my parents about the result and they were happy too. I still believed it to be a dream and was infinitely happy. I was alone from India to stand in Grade 8 Second Prize which made me very happy. I was happy because I was noticed by NASA, I was noticed by my dream and they seriously liked my work and so they ranked me second. I am really thankful to NASA and NSS for selecting me and organizing such a wonderful contest. I will try next year too and will surely achieve my dream one day at NASA.

Ajinkya Jayant Naik, Dhule, Maharashtra, India (North Point School)

We were very happy doing this project and we gained a lot of information and we also brought our creative skills to a higher level. We faced many ups and downs doing this project but ultimately the day came when our project was complete, a day when we could look at it with satisfaction and our hearts were filled with optimism and enthusiasm toward the exploration of space. A few months earlier we had little knowledge and were just wondering about space. After the project we felt enlightened about the exploration of space and had a deeper knowledge. I would just like to say that we were very grateful to work on this project and it gave us immense pleasure. Thank you for conducting such an informative contest.

Akshat Gupta, Team Dynasoar, India

Despite the fact that I spent many sleepless nights for this project, I feel it will be one of my greatest lifetime experiences. At the beginning, I never expected that it would take such a hard work to complete something like this. This is the second time I have done this; yet this time I have the feeling that I have learned something much more. It’s not that first time experience happens just once; in this case, the amount of learning, the amount of joy and interest remains the same; and I’m sure this is not happening just with me; it is with every participant. This is not something that can be done when someone forces you; this is something that requires interest to understand and learn and the dedication and determination to finish what we started. I am stunned by the way people think; doing something of this sort requires a different level of thought and understanding. When I started working on this paper, I was actually astounded when I saw the works of others, the level of their understanding and the way they wrote what they understood. It made me realize that every person has his/her own potential and that every person can do something. I want to thank NASA for such an initiative that lets the world ponder about something futuristic and something unimaginably overwhelming.

Ashwin Ramachandran, Class 9, Kingdom of Bahrain

I, Mahika Vivek Kandalgaonkar, who received the individual first prize in grade 8 from Gloria Convent High School (India) for my project named HEXTIA, would like to share about my experience in participating in the NASA space settlement contest. This success did not come overnight. I truly worked hard for it. This project was a tough challenge for me. When I found out that I had received a first prize, for a few moments I was totally immobile except for tears of joy in my eyes. At last I received the fruits of my hard work. My message to all participants is that you give your best. Give your heart and soul to it. Regardless if you win or lose, what really counts is trying and having a never-say-die attitude. Remember, you have an opportunity so do not miss the chance.

Mahika Vivek Kandalgaonkar, Gloria Convent High School, Maharashtra, India

I really thank you for organizing this competition. You have no idea how much difference it has made to my life. Thank you so much and most importantly the invitation for the ISDC. The ISDC and the contest has changed the course of my life. After the ISDC I’m working very hard in school and extracurriculars to get into an awesome university such as Standford, Harvard or MIT to get a base in electronics and later a Masters in Astronautics & Aeronautics. I really want to contribute to the development of space.

Hrishikesh Kamath, Delhi Public School, Bangalore South, India

I will always recognize my 8th grade class NASA Space Settlement Contest project as the beginning of my passion for physics. As I wrote reports on harnessing antimatter and nuclear energy in a Mars-orbiting settlement, I delved headfirst into subjects such as particle colliders and nuclear chain reactions. As I researched structural materials, I encountered a world of intriguing papers detailing self-healing smart materials, carbon nanotubes, and insulating aerogels. Long after I finished my work for my class’ NASA project submission, I continued to explore physics and learn more about my interests. I am preparing for a future in the field of physics, inspired by this competition!

Nisarga Paul, Cortland Jr. Sr. High School, New York

Despite the fact that the amount of work that I put in for this project is immense, I believe this will be my greatest lifetime experience. Thanks to NASA/NSS for providing teens the opportunity to think, design and present their ideas on a global stage. At first when I heard of this, I thought that it was some kind of kid’s play; so I went to check it out. It so happened that when I viewed the previously submitted projects I was amazed by the way people think. It was extraordinary, and I believe that this program will help improve young minds all over the globe. It’s like a dream come true. I had an opportunity to learn about new concepts and numerous other things. It was a point where I discovered my potential and this has really kindled my thoughts and desire. NASA has given me the opportunity to write about something that a student would never think of. It has helped me improve my knowledge and vocabulary which I optimistically believe wouldn’t have been possible without me attending this program. For me a space settlement is a dream place where I wish the future generation will inhabit.

Ashwin Ramachandran, 9th Grade, The Indian School, Bahrain

FROM STUDENT TO JUDGE: “It was such a pleasure to help judge the Ames Space Settlement Contest! I first heard of this contest while in high school – and it was my first real opportunity to focus my interest in space and space exploration into a real project – and that would be read by someone at NASA! At that time, fellow space enthusiasts and I worked together to come up with our ideal space colony, working through the needed life support systems, gravity, technical challenges, and of course our made up society (and free ice cream for all!). We entered the contest 3 years in a row (until I graduated), and I remember looking back each year and thinking that I had learned so much! I followed my interests in space exploration by studying aerospace engineering in undergrad and planetary science for my PhD. Now I am a researcher at Ames, and it was a nice surprise to see the announcement that judges were needed for the contest! Thank you for giving me the opportunity back then to put my space exploration thoughts into a neat project to be read by NASA, and now for reading the space exploration plans and dreams of students. I truly value working at Ames now, and to have come full circle from dreaming about NASA to working at NASA.”

Margarita M, Marinova, BAER Institute/NASA Ames Research Center

“We, Bhawna Singh and Deeksha Gupta, participated in the Space Settlement Contest 2012 organized by NASA and NSS. We received the honorable mention award in the 9th – 10th grade category for our project Tierra Space Settlement. We were very happy and excited when we decided to participate in the NASA/NSS Space Settlement Contest. When we started this project we didn’t encounter any problem but as we proceeded, this job became extremely difficult for us. We had to miss our regular classes to do research work for our project. Soon complaints about this reached  our parents who were not happy with this. But we continued to put our heart and soul in the project and completed it before the due date. When the results were declared we found that we received an honorable mention award in the 9th – 10th grade category. Our parents are so happy that they have not only forgiven us but have also encouraged us to participate for next year’s contest. During the project, beside the scoldings, we got to learn so much that we could not have imagined even in our wildest dreams. For us this project was the best so far and doing it was no less than FUN.”

Bhawna Singh, Ruknani Birla Modern High School, Rajasthan, India

“My name is Olteanu Oana-Elisa and I am a Romanian citizen. I live in a village called Topraisar, which is situated at a distance of 30 km from Constanta City. My work on the Apis project included some chapters for which was necessary a profound study of information about the placement of the space settlement, creation of the artificial gravity, and others. Nevertheless, it was something that I created based on my knowledge and imagination and that is the external and internal structure of the space settlement. Remembering the holidays spent to my grand parents, especially the colonies of bees, I thought that people, in their new home, would survive having a good organization and being united like bees. Therefore, I came up with the idea to use the honeycomb in the shape of the space settlement, a structure that has a whole series of advantages, and I made a sketch with the shape of the space settlement. Participating at NASA Space Settlement Contest determined me to apply to a university abroad. The grand prize won at this challenging contest is very important to me because it consolidated my self-confidence, but also for the fact that I showed to the other children from my village that an alternative for their future exists. A real example is my neighbor, a little boy of 8 years old that told to his mother he wants to study to be like me. In this way, I gave them and to me a hope, a hope that when you want something and you work hard you will obtain results no matter the occurred obstacles. I want to thank NASA for offering students worldwide the opportunity to challenge their imagination and knowledge in trying to discover and understand the greatness of the Universe; or in the words of Star Trek’s Capitan Picard, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Olteanu Oana-Elisa, Romania

“While the contest has encouraged me to learn much more about the sciences than I would have imagined, and offered an unforgettable teamwork experience, what I would consider most important is that, through its interdisciplinarity, the contest has taught me more about myself. Throughout its act of teaching, it has had a major impact on my development and on my life. It has inspired me and gave me the courage to participate in small conferences and to found a student society. Through its interdisciplinarity and emphasis on creativity, the contest has shaped me in a unique manner such that I now consider it part of my identity. The contest has inspired me to continue interdisciplinary studies during the renowned Summer Science Program (SSP), 2006, NM. Subsequently, the contest has shaped my interests for higher education, contributed to defining my future profession, and helped me attend a top college.”

Horia-Mihail Teodorescu, Romania, Harvard College

“I participated in the 1996, 1997, and 1998 NASA Space Settlement Contests. In 1996 I had the pleasure of touring the NASA Ames Research Center with Mr. Al Globus. These contests, along with the opportunity to observe space science first-hand, were invaluable experiences. They have influenced my ambitions and choice of career, as well as my study habits, more than any junior high school or high school class that I took. The contests encourage students to think big, but in a critical way. A successful entry requires seriously hitting the books, the first time I was forced to do so. Beyond directly spotlighting the importance of space settlement and of NASA, I am certain that the contests have had a ripple effect of attracting young minds to ambitious projects across all fields of science and engineering.”

Moshe Looks, PhD, Software Engineer at Google

“I wanted to thank you for the influence the Space Settlement competition has had on me. The competition is very different from anything else offered in high school. The synthesis of a vivid imagination and an analytical understanding is much underrated in our cirruculum. One cannot start without first conjuring the preliminary ideas, and only then working on the science behind making those ideas work. When I took a class in organic chemistry at Harvard Summer School last year, it was impossible to remember the myriad reactions without visualizing molecules colliding with each other, exchanging electrons, morphing into other molecules, etc. Having done that, the class was surprisingly easy for me (I aced it). I also wrote about the overlap of imagination and understanding in my application essay to Caltech, which accepted me in December.”

Anguel Alexiev

“The competition really helped me a lot to enlarge my views. That was the moment when I received the real international feeling; when I felt I wanted to do something more. It helped me to get a lot of self-confidence, to learn how to deal with research a bit, to lead a team and to deal with the media. I also enjoyed that place and those people that I met at Ames.”

Dan Costea, Romania, ESA Fluorinert (FC-72) in Micro-gravity experiment team

“When I found this competition on the internet I was overjoyed. I saw this competition as my first step towards my dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. First, it was tough to find members for the team. I asked many friends but no one was interested. Then I asked those people to be in the team whom I didn’t know properly but knew they would be interested. I don’t regret my decision and the proof is of our winning honourable mention in 2005. That moment was just amazing and I was very happy. But we were not satisfied with this and again sent the project in 2006 and won 2nd prize. And finally our trip to NASA was just out of the world. That one day was great……sitting in the NASA cafe and having lunch was unexpected and I never dreamt of it. Thank you so much for making that day so different and wonderful. This project gave me a wonderful friend, Nivedita, with whom I can share all my secrets. During the making of the project, all of us fought amongst each other…….respected each other’s thoughts……had wonderful discussions…..learnt a lot. The whole experience was amazing and unforgettable.”

Vrinda Aggarwal, India

“Space science and technology has always fascinated me from a very early age; hence I was very interested in working for NASA, or be related to NASA in some sort. This dream of mine could never have come true if it wasn’t for the NASA Space Settlement competition. It not only made me realize my dream but also the experience and involvement in the competition motivated me to work with Mr. Al Globus on a new space colony design. Furthermore this helped me getting admission in a top grad school, Georgia Institute of Technology. Apart from apparent great benefit to my career, the competition also boosted my self confidence and made me realize the values to be gained as a researcher. I really thank the people in NASA who made the competition a success and I hope it would continue to motivate students like me to achieve in life what they really dream of.”

Nittin Arora, India, Georgia Institute of Technology

“From the moment I received the call from my school, informing me I was chosen to be a part of the NASA competition, I felt the opportunity to confront so many exciting challenges at my age was an incentive all in itself. As our project advanced, I realized our work had grown into a truly good project with merit. When we learned we won first place in the contest, we were grateful for all the hours of hard work, exchanging of ideas and dedication we had put forth. From that moment we knew the contest had been an excellent vehicle for learning. Not only had it enriched us as students and as individuals, it was an educational experience that could be applied on a broader national level. As if it were offered in direct response to our dedication and hard work, we had the opportunity to visit what we considered to be an unattainable goal — visiting NASA. It was upon reaching this goal that I realized failure would not be an option in my life and that I would always go for it. To date, this has been the most notable change in my life, because this experience has gotten me interested in reaching a higher understanding of chemistry, physics, mathematics and everything that had previously been a mystery to me, simply because we had never been aware of their existence. It is clear to me that as an individual I have been enriched. Now I know that dreams need only to be combined with work and dedication in order to make them a reality and benefit for all.”

Romina Muniz, Uruguay

“Hi, my name is Felipe Juda. I surely do not forget the day we went to visit NASA Ames Research Center. I was with a group of students from Argentina which participated in a NASA Contest in 1996 where the objective was to design a Space Colony (our teachers were Gabriel Rshaid and Victor Capeluto). I just wanted to thank you for bringing a whole new world to me by showing us NASA Ames Research Center’s facilities. That was an experience that I will never forget; just in one day, you opened our minds towards the future. Thank you very much for your kind gesture.”

Felipe Juda, Argentina


“I would like you to know how especially ecstatic my students were this year [2015] to tie for first place in the large group 8th grade category. I have always had enthusiastic and hardworking groups for the NASA contest, but this year’s group really was especially committed. Many of them asked me to stay after school until 5 o’clock and even come to school during their February week-long break, so they could keep working on the project together. I had my camera ready when I announced the good news by showing them the results on the Smartboard in my classroom [photo at top of this page].

Stephanie Passeri-Densmore, Cortland Jr., Sr. High School, Cortland New York

“I especially would like you to know that Nisarga Paul, who was captain of our 1st place winning (junior high category) EON team in 2011 (see his testimonial above) has been accepted to Harvard University early admissions! Getting into Harvard is hard enough but early admissions acceptance is amazing. What I would like to emphasize is that Nisarga made a point of highlighting his NASA/NSS Space Settlement Contest experience in his admissions essay. In the letter of recommendation that I wrote for him, I wrote at length about the contest and how it gave Nisarga a chance to show all his intellectual depth and acumen and leadership abilities. Thank you again for giving the youth of our world the great opportunity to participate in this contest.”

Stephanie Passeri-Densmore, Cortland Jr., Sr. High School, Cortland New York

“In my experience with the Space Settlement project it became clear that the level of student motivation was miraculous. Many of the student participants became engrossed with the possibilities this subject evoked and in a number of cases study time doubled.”

Fred Jacques, Berlin Community School, New Jersey

“No other group activity I have ever implemented has required my students to feel such a palpable sense of personal responsibility. Students repeatedly wrote about gaining self-esteem and self confidence from the experience. Some said they had learned what real commitment was all about. Before the contest they had never been interested in space technology. Now the idea of living in space seemed like a realistic goal. A number of parents took the time to write me letters or telephone me, thanking me for involving their children in such a unique and useful experience.”

Stephanie Passeri, Cortland Jr., Sr. High School, Cortland New York

“The student contest managers asked if we could hold special meetings after school. One of these managers was a young man that most teachers had become fed up with. He was lazy, uninspired, and had an attitude problem; but something changed in this young man. He became proud. He accepted the challenge. Friday’s meeting was a huge success. When parents started arriving, the students were reluctant to leave. Although their meeting lasted two hours and forty-five minutes, they wanted to hold a second. When I couldn’t schedule the meeting they redoubled their efforts in the classroom and started assigning everyone in their groups (including themselves) HOMEWORK. I froze when I saw our schools name under the title of first place winners. I don’t remember who shouted first, but the room erupted. The kids were in a celebratory mood for weeks. I overheard one student say to another, ‘wow, I made more friends by doing this that I would have otherwise!’ I received two very special letters … one was from one of the co-project managers. He stated that I had put a small Florida town on the map. My students went above and beyond because NASA sparked their curiosity. They read above their grade-level and asked and answered questions beyond their years.”

Shannon Reinhold-Gee, Gordon Burnett Middle School, Seffner, Florida

“It interested the students enough that they worked 2-3 hrs. nightly for the entire semester on a project that incorporated English, computer science, math and physics. They proved to themselves and to the school that they can compete with the rest of the world. There tends to be a small town attitude here. Now that they have actually traveled to NASA the students have taken some more challenging classes at the university and are looking at aerospace engineering as a career. The Ames Space Settlement Contest has made a large formal step towards developing a culture at RHS for academic excellence.”

Ian Fogarty, Riverview High School, New Brunswick, Canada