NASA/NSS Space Settlement Contest

Results of the 2014 contest are here. We expect certificates to be in the mail by the end of May.

This annual contest, co-sponsored by NASA Ames and the National Space Society (NSS), is for all students up to 12th grade (18 years old) from anywhere in the world. Individuals, small teams of two to five, and large teams of six or more are judged separately. Entries are also grouped by age/grade of the oldest contestant for judging. The age groups are 7th and under, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th. The grand prize is awarded to the best entry regardless of contestant age. Students develop space settlement designs and related materials. These are sent to NASA Ames for judgement. Submissions must be received by March 1.

Results of past contests:

1994   1997   2000   2003   2006   2009   2012  
1995 1998 2001 2004 2007 2010 2013
1996 1999 2002 2005 2008 2011 2014

Teachers are encouraged to use this contest as part of their curriculum. See the space settlement teacher's page and the Space Settlement page.

We are soliciting testimonials of experiences with this contest. If you have something to say about your experience with this contest, send an email to (this email address is for testimonials only and NOT for general questions). Selected testimonials will be posted on the NSS web site and/or used in a scientific paper on the contest. Accepted testimonials may be edited for English and clarity.

Contest prizes and certificates:

  • All participants will receive a certificate. All submissions must be received by March 1.
  • The best submission, regardless of category, wins the grand prize, consisting of the space colony submission being placed on the NASA Ames World Wide Web site.
  • The National Space Society (NSS) invites all 2014 contest participants to attend the NSS annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Los Angeles, CA May 14-18, 2014. Every year, hundreds of contestants attend, along with their parents, teachers, siblings and friends. Special activities for contestants are planned, including:
    • The single highest scoring team or individual attending will receive the NSS Bruce M. Clark, Jr. Memorial Space Settlement Award for $5,000. If a team wins, the sum will be evenly divided amongst them.
    • The highest ranking winners attending will be invited to give oral presentations as time is available.
    • To the extent space is available, all contestants who attend will be invited to display a poster of their work.
    • There will be a reception for contestants, teachers, parents, etc.
    These activities are not yet finalized and may change. Nonetheless, this is a tremendous opportunity to present your work, meet some of the most important people in space development as well as your fellow contestants, and have a great time. If you are planning to attend the ISDC, please see the ISDC Space Settlement Students Web Site. Only if necessary contact Note: Contestants are responsible for all travel arrangements, visas and conference expenses. Also, minors (children under 18) must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Among other potential problems, the hotel may not allow checkin without an adult in the party. Students from outside of the U.S. planning on attending the ISDC should apply as soon as possible for a passport and visas as it may take some time (months) to acquire one. If you need a letter of invitation, please use the ISDC Invitation Letter form. ONLY if that does not work, requests for letters of invitation can be sent to along with with the school name, address, and names of students, teachers, or family members needing the letter.
  • Contest categories are
    • 7th grade and under: individual, small group, large group,
    • 8th grade: individual, small group, large group,
    • 9th grade: individual, small group, large group,
    • 10th grade: individual, small group, large group,
    • 11th grade: individual, small group, large group,
    • 12th grade: individual, small group, large group.
    Additional categories based on artistic and literary merit are also included in the contest.
  • Contestants give NASA the right to publish their submissions without restriction as a condition for entering the contest.
  • For additional information see the rest of this page and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

Here are some of the grand prize entries from previous years:


  • Submissions must relate to orbital settlements. Settlements may not be on a planet or moon. Settlements must be permanent, relatively self-sufficient homes, not temporary work camps.
  • Designs, original research, essays, stories, models, artwork or any other orbital space settlement related materials may be submitted.
  • Submissions must be made in hard copy. No electronic submissions are accepted under any circumstances. This includes Power Point presentations, discs, CD's, DVD, videos or anything but paper. However, you may create an electronic project, such as a video or web site, and send us a hard copy description of the project. The description should include images and text to describe the project in sufficient detail for judgement. If your electronic project is web accessible, you may include the URL. It will not be used for judging, but NASA may, at its discretion, link to your project from the contest results page.
  • Two copies of the entry form with the appropriate information must be included with the submission; one attached to the submission and one loosely attached (for example, with a paper clip). If possible, three-hole punch the loose one. Be sure to fill out all fields. Please type if at all possible. Use a separate sheet if necessary.
  • The submission must be the student's own work. Plagiarism is forbidden. No part of an entry may copied with one exception: You may quote short passages, but only if the material is surrounded in double quotes (") and the source indicated. For example: "This material copied from somewhere," My Favorite Space Book. Quoted materials should rarely be more than a few lines, and never longer than a few paragraphs. Quoting long passages is forbidden. Entries caught plagiarizing, even one part of a large entry, will be disqualified and disposed of.
  • Instructors, mentors or parents may assist the student in presenting relevant resources, discussing core concepts and editing, but the work itself must be entirely student driven.
  • Always include a bibliography.
  • Submissions are not returned. Keep a copy for yourself.


You may use other people's ideas in your entry, but not other people's writing. In recent years plagiarism, copying other people's writing rather than doing your own, has become a serious problem. Every year dozens of entries are caught copying materials from the web. They are eliminated from the competition. To avoid plagiarism, we recommend that you never use copy/paste for any text in your entry. Always write it yourself. Note that copying material and changing a few words here and there is also plagiarism. Write your own material!

Plagiarism is particularly sad for teams when one team member plagiarizes and the others are ethical. For teams, we recommend checking each other for plagiarism. Use Google (or other search engine) to surround 6-8 suspect words with double quotes, for example "text I think might be plagiarised by someone." If there is a perfect match, then look at the source material to make sure there wasn't an accidental match. Most of the time it will be plagiarism and must be removed from your entry before the judges find it. There are also some automated plagiarism detectors available on the web. Consider using them.

Resources and Tips

  • If your entry is longer that 5-10 pages, consider including a one page executive summary on the best features of your entry. Be sure to include original ideas, major focus, and any parts particularly well done in the executive summary. This will help the judges find the best parts of your entry.
  • Avoid including technical material not directly related to your space settlement. This is a space settlement contest and marginally related material will make it difficult for the judges. If they can't find your space settlement elements easily you won't score well.
  • Refer to the NASA Ames Space Settlement Page.
  • Refer to the NSS Space Settlement Library.
  • Refer to the head judge's advice.
  • Use the space colony designer's corner.
  • Use the space settlement teacher's page.
  • Refer to the NSS Library.
  • Refer to the Generic Earth Orbiting Space Settlement Requirements by Anita Gale.
  • Models are hard to handle and expensive to ship. Consider sending pictures of your model. If you must send the whole model, make it strong. Fragile models are frequently demolished during shipping or transport. Submissions are not returned. NASA is not responsible for the loss or damage to any submission.
  • Do your best to get the science right.
  • Make your design as quantitative as possible.
  • Include a bibliography. We want to know where you got your ideas and materials.
  • Be creative. Surprise the judges. Put something of your own personality into your work.
  • Consider designing a colony that you would really like to live in.
  • Consider alternate possibilities and clearly describe why you made the choices you did.
  • Present your material clearly and neatly.
  • When you discuss someone else's ideas or work, which almost all entries do, reference it. We recommend a reference format along the lines of "[author year]." For example, you might write:
    Small children will be required not to be allowed in the center of the cylinder since radiation levels are minimized near the hull [Horia 2005].
    Then in the References section at the end of your paper put:
    [Horia 2005] Horia Mihail Teodorescu and Al Globus, "Radiation Passive Shield Analysis and Design for Space Applications," SAE 2005 Transactions Journal of Aerospace.
  • If you use someone else's image, add "Image credit" to give credit where credit is due.
  • Use the entry form. If we don't know who you are we won't be able to send you your prizes and certificates. Be sure to attach a copy of the entry form to each part of your submission plus one additional copy loosely unattached (perhaps with a paper clip). For example, if you have a report and artwork, attach an entry form to each so that if they get separated during handling, we will be able to put them back together. Please type if at all possible. Use a separate sheet if necessary.
  • Submissions must be received by March 1. All decisions by the judges are final.
  • Have fun.


Send a hard copy of your entry and two hard copies of a filled out entry form (one firmly attached to your entry and the other loosely attached, perhaps with a paper clip) to:

NASA Ames Research Center
Al Globus/Mail Stop 262-4
Bldg. 262, Rm. 277
P.O. Box 1
Moffett Field, CA 94035-0001

Entries must arrive by March 1.

NOTE: we do not send verification that entries have been received. Please don't ask for one. If you want to know if the entry has arrived, use a service that requires a signature.

Teachers using the contest in their class should submit all projects together. Note: electronic submission is not allowed, only hard copy.


Space colonies are permanent communities in orbit, as opposed to living on the Moon or other planets. The work of Princeton physicist Dr. O'Neill and others have shown that such colonies are technically feasible, although expensive. Settlers of this high frontier are expected to live inside large air-tight rotating structures holding hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people along with the animals, plants, and single celled organisms vital to comfort and survival. There are many advantages to living in orbit: zero-g recreation, environmental independence, plentiful solar energy, and terrific views to name a few. There is plenty of room for everyone who wants to go; the materials from a single asteroid can build space colonies with living space equal to about 500 times the surface area of the Earth.

Why should colonies be in orbit? Mars and our Moon have a surface gravity far below Earth normal. Children raised in low-g will not develop bones and muscles strong enough to visit Earth comfortably. In contrast, orbital colonies can be rotated to provide Earth normal pseudo-gravity in the main living areas.

We hope teachers will make this contest part of their lesson plan. While designing a space colony, students will have a chance to study physics, mathematics, space science, environmental science, and many other disciplines. We would like students outside the science classes to participate as well. Thus, contest submissions may include designs, essays, stories, models, and artwork. Students can design entire colonies or focus on one aspect of orbital living. A class or school may submit a joint project where small teams tackle different areas in a coordinated fashion. For example, consider a cross curriculum project where science classes design the basic structure and support systems, art students create pictures of the interior and exterior, English students write related short stories, social studies students develop government and social systems, Industrial Technology builds a scale model, and the football team proposes low-g sports.

Schools and teachers may consider ongoing multi-year projects; each year's students add detail to a space colony design that becomes part of the school or class portfolio. In this case, teachers assign students to different parts of the design, gradually building a more and more complete and practical space colony concept. Each year the project can be submitted to the contest.

Other Space Settlement Contests

Continuing Education

Colleges and Universities offering space science and astronautics programs.

NASA Academy. A National educational, training, and research resource for college undergraduate and graduate students, dedicated to promoting current and future opportunities for innovation and leadership in aerospace-related careers.

The space settlement home page.

Additional Space Settlement sites include:

We would like to thank the NASA Ames Contractor Council and the San Jose State University Research Foundation for their generous and critical support.

Author: Al Globus


  Originally created by: NASA Ames Research Center
Curators: Al Globus and Bryan Yager
Design: Victoria Callor
Rehosted by: National Space Society
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