On March 26, 114 students and 28 chaperone teachers from northwest Iowa were supposed to take off from Sioux City to participate in the 22nd Johnson Space Center (JSC) Space Settlement Design Competition (SSDC). The competition is for high school students and attempts to recreate the experience of working in an aerospace company's proposal team. The teams, known as 'companies', are asked to design a space colony to fulfill a Request for Proposal (RFP). 

As you can predict, the SSDC had to be canceled due to the situation with COVID-19. The SSDC has been an amazing experience for so many students and teachers over years, it was a major disappointment we would not be making the trip to Houston again for the first time in so many years. Then the question came: What if we were able to meet virtually for students who still wanted to participate?

That is exactly the situation we (the organizers of the competition) found ourselves in. Over the past 22 years of Space Settlement Design Competitions happening all over the world, there has never been a virtual competition...until 2020. From April 18-26, the first virtual SSDC took place with students from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas. They had the opportunity to interact with aerospace professionals from not only NASA and Boeing but from professionals located all over the world. Even though we could not have the experience of being at NASA this year, students were able to connect with students and professionals all across the globe from India to Australia. 

Every year at the end of the SSDC, we survey the students to get feedback on their experience. This year was no different and it proved to be a successful learning experience. While COVID-19 has been a situation that we—at one time or another—wish we didn’t have to deal with, there can be a lot of good that can come out of this situation. 

Here is a quote from a student participant to prove that even through a quarantine situation, we can still make a difference. The student participant said, “Honestly, this was a once-in-a-high-school-life-experience for me, and I don’t know where else I will get this. Now, more than ever, I want to do STEM.” 

This is a reminder that no matter what the situation, we can still help make a positive difference for kids! If anyone is interested in seeing what some awesome high school students did together virtually last week, check out their presentations via the links below. 




Written by Jordan Menning, Northwest AEA educational services consultant and organizer of the northwest Iowa Space Settlement Design Competition