"I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond." Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator.

The National Space Society wants you to design your best space settlement - a place in space for you, your friends, and family to live, play and work. If design isn't your thing, then write a story, draw a picture, invent a weightless sport, or come up with something entirely new about life in space. Then send your creation to NASA Ames Research Center by March 31st. Make it good though, you'll be competing with hundreds of like-minded space enthusiasts in the 13th annual NASA Ames Space Settlement design contest for 6-12th grade students. See http://www.nas.nasa.gov/About/Education/SpaceSettlement/Contest/ for contest details and http://www.nas.nasa.gov/About/Education/SpaceSettlement/ for all the research materials you need to design your very own home in space.

What if you have too much homework to take the time to design a space colony right now? Maybe your teacher will integrate the contest into their lesson plan. Many teachers have. Space settlement design is a terrific motivator, and winning prizes from NASA looks very good for the school and the teacher. You don't need to have school support to enter, but the contest is very teacher friendly. Many teachers have integrated the contest into the curriculum and their students come back year after year. NASA provides materials to help educators use the contest in the classroom at http://www.nas.nasa.gov/About/Education/SpaceSettlement/teacher.

Most, but not all, entries are space settlement designs. Design questions include: How big is your colony? What shape? How many people? How is the water recycled? How is the food grown? What products does the colony export? What do people do for fun? Is there a place for weightless sports? What do the houses look like? How does the government work? Is there something special about the social system? How is the colony built? How is it maintained? The questions are endless, but you don't need to answer them all. Choose the questions that interest you the most. That's the key to a good contest entry - do what you like and do it well.

Thus, the contest isn't limited to engineering. Many entries are artwork, some of which can be found on the NASA web site: http://www.nas.nasa.gov/About/Education/SpaceSettlement/Contest/Results/99/art/ . Prizes have been won by short stories about life in space as well. If sports is your thing, how about inventing a sport that works well in weightlessness? Or perhaps write a paper on how traditional sports are changed when played in a rotating orbital space colony? There was one contestant that created an ad campaign to attract colonists to a new settlement. Life in space touches every aspect of life on Earth. Let your imagination be your guide.

Whatever your entry, remember that we are talking about space settlements, not space stations. A space station is a place to work. A space settlement is a place to live, to raise a family, to spend your whole life (except for vacations to Earth, the Moon, and orbital settlements!). Someday our solar system will be filled with thousands of giant orbiting space settlements, as well as colonies on the Moon, Mars and other bodies. Every colony will be a little, or very, different from every other one, depending on what the locals want. So be sure your space settlement is a place that you would like to live in. Make it nice. Make it great. Make it a place where all your friends and favorite family members will want to live too. You are in control! Do it right.

Entries are due by March 31st. Any 6-12th grader may enter solo or with a team. 6-9th graders are judged separately from 10-12th, and solo efforts, small teams, and large teams each have their own categories. This year there is a special Life Support category with special emphasis on radiation protection, so start thinking about how to keep your space city's residents alive with radiation shielding, clean air, water, and good food!

Designs, essays, stories, models, artwork or any other orbital space settlement materials may be entered. All participants receive a certificate, winners are invited to NASA Ames for a tour, and the Grand Prize winner will have their entry hosted on a NASA web site and an article published in Ad Astra. As if that's not enough, one entrant will be honored at ISDC 2006, the National Space Society's annual conference.

What are you waiting for? Get to work!

NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

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