Some of the high school students who made up the Canadian team at this year’s International Space Settlement Design Competition, held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July. (Photo submitted)

‘Very surreal’: B.C. students help design space colony in NASA-backed competition

Lower Mainland teens were part of the victorious team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July

Imagine designing a city in space.

Several Lower Mainland high school students did just that and have returned home after helping their team win a NASA-backed contest that involved designing a habitable space colony.

The International Space Settlement Design Competition was held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from July 26 to 30.

“It was intense,” laughed Aden Jabbar, who is starting Grade 12 at Surrey’s Princess Margaret Secondary this fall.

She was one of roughly 20 Metro Vancouver students – about half of whom are from Surrey – who participated in the annual competition.

“We were treated like actual engineers,” said Aden, who is in a NASA club at her high school. “The judges, they were questioning us like we were real engineers proposing a real design. It’s stressful.”

As for the win?

”I was so shocked. I was like, ‘How is this even possible?’” said Aden, chuckling. “After doing this I feel like I’m more interested in pursuing a degree in engineering because this has given me a real life experience of actually working in the field. Actually designing proposals for real companies. It was really cool.”

The competitors – from around the globe – were split into “companies” and tasked with designing, developing and planning operations for “the second large space settlement on Earth’s Moon Luna” in the year 2059. It was dubbed the “Balderol.”

READ ALSO: NASA launches Orion crew capsule to test abort system

homelessphoto

(Some of the local high school students who represented Canada at the International Space Settlement Design Competition in Florida this past July. Submitted photo)

According to their “settlement contract,” the colony had to be a safe living and working environment for a minimum of 16,000 full-time residents.

From infrastructure to safety to automation to costing and even a schedule for construction, the teens had their work cut out for them and were even assigned roles in the company’s hierarchy. The competition involved not only the design and planning phase, but also a presentation to judges and an audience of at least a couple hundred.

The Metro Vancouver students were teamed up with other teens from the U.S., a team from India as well as a team from Uruguay.

In all, about 60 students from the four countries worked on the winning space colony design, meaning about a third of the victorious team were Canadians.

Alvina Gakhokidze, who is entering Grade 12 at Delta’s Seaquam Secondary in September, was in the structural engineering section, helping to design actual buildings.

“My heart was pounding so loudly,” Alvina recalled of the moment before the team found out they’d won. “In the last few seconds I just covered my eyes. It was torture. Then she finally revealed it, there was this whole video of everyone jumping. We all went on stage and got medals. Then we got these big trophies, rocket trophies.”

Alvina said she never would’ve guessed she’d be in a contest that involved designing a space settlement.

“Now I want to be an aerospace engineer,” she said. “Oh, how things change.”

“I like innovation, so that, I think, is my direction.”

READ ALSO: ‘Canada is going to the moon’: Trudeau announces partnership in NASA-led quest

homelessphoto

(Alvina Gakhokidze, left, and Aden Jabbar are two of several local high school students who were part of a winning space colony design competition in the U.S. in July. Photo: Amy Reid)

Another student from Princess Margaret’s NASA club, Mehtab Brar, said it was great to “encounter real people from the industry.”

“Engineers, contractors, the organizer herself, she also works with NASA. That was a really good way to network with the industry and the people there…. It was an opportunity to expand on some of the stuff I had already learned.”

Mehtab said about 10 students from Princess Margaret competed, in all.

Sahba El-Shawa, who served as the Canadian team’s adult lead and engineer, explained this was the first year the country has officially participated in the event since its inception dating back to the 80s.

“Previously, the only way Canadians could participate was through a qualifying competition, so instead of having their country’s semifinals, you’d have to write a 40-page proposal over a couple of months, and only three teams get chosen from around the world,” she said, noting that made the chance of being accepted very slim.

“This was the first year Canada was guaranteed a spot.”

El-Shawa organized the national semi-final that served as a qualifier for the first-ever Canadian spot at the competition, and that qualifying contest was held last May at UBC.

All participants are in high school, she noted, and while all came from the Metro Vancouver area this year, she hopes to expand the event and garner more involvement from students across the country in future years.

“It’s pretty awesome,” El-Shawa said of the whole experience, as well as the opportunity the students had, noting real NASA engineers provided support to the Canadian students.

“You literally have people who work on these projects in real life to give you advice. It’s super helpful.”

El-Shawa, who is about to embark on her masters in space studies, said the whole experience was “overwhelming” for her.

“It’s also the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year, which they launched from Kennedy Space Center. So we were there, literally a week after the 50th anniversary celebration,” she said.

“The trophy that we won, the Saturn V, is the rocket they launched on. It was all very surreal. It was amazing.”

homelessphoto

(Submitted photo of the students preparing for the International Space Settlement Design Competition, held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from July 26 to 30.)

READ ALSO: NASA rover finally bites the dust on Mars after 15 years



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Amy on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan (left) and Kierry Bui. The family says they are relieved the trial process has come to close Monday morning with Tenessa Nikirk found guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sentencing begins for Peninsula woman convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Victoria police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Victoria police are looking for high-risk offender Douglas McPherson. (Courtesy of VicPD)
High-risk parolee with history of bank robbery believed to be in Victoria

Police ask for public’s help locating 64-year-old parolee

(Black Press Media file photo)
Police arrest suspect in Saanich liquor store break and enters

Windowpane removal key component in string of thefts

Nicole Abbott and her 10-month-old daughter, Ophelia, shown here at the Metchosin Fire Hall for the Halloween events last year. Residents are invited to a drive-through version this year. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore fire halls take pandemic-safe approach to Halloween

One spooky lane among three drive-thru features by firefighters

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

A view from the deck of a home in SookePoint. The property is a prize in the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation Millionaire Lottery. Tickets are on sale now. (Contributed photo)
Millionaire Lottery home up for grabs in Sooke

Sooke prize home part of latest VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation Millionaire Lottery

FILE – B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts owner, Senator David Braley speaks after the CFL announced Vancouver will host the 2014 Grey Cup championship football game during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 8, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Lions owner David Braley dead at 79

Braley had bought the CFL team prior to 1997 season

Wind and waves were part of the reason why the Sail Canada High Performance Team selected HMCS Quadra as the winter training base for Tokyo 2021. Photo by Ken Dool
National sailing team prepares for Olympics at Vancouver Island location

HMCS Quadra is serving as the winter training base for the Canadian… Continue reading

Most Read