Five Grade 12 students in Brampton who have been thinking hard about life in space have won second prize in an international NASA competition.
The Central Peel Secondary School students, all 17, created detailed plans for a settlement that would sustain life while orbiting a planet. The students are the only Canadian team to win a prize in the competition. For their planet, the team chose Mars.
Vyshna Krishnakumar and Vishvam Mazumdar told Metro Morning on Monday that the settlement in their 138-page plan is in the shape of an ellipsoid, a 3-D geometric shape that looks like a flattened sphere.
"It's not about Mars exactly," Krishnakumar said. "It's about a self-sustaining community in space, the future of humanity, where people are going to go after Earth."
The settlement, which would be flown in pieces to space and assembled before humans arrive in ships, includes agricultural sections, economic systems, business aspects, entertainment factions, research and development.
Krishnakumar and Mazumdar, along with the rest of their team — Kanav Arora, Rinay Shah and Vraj Patel — had to think about what people would need to survive in space. That includes food, water, oxygen and gravity.
"Just getting all the things that you need and putting it together — that's the starting point of the project," Krishnakumar said.
International competition fierce
According to NASA, the project had to be cross-disciplinary and consider the education, economics, government, science and sustainability of life. The Central Peel students were up against a field of 6,000 students from all over the world who submitted more than 1,500 entries.
Krishnakumar said the Central Peel team's plans were unique because they included socio-political aspects like laws, schooling and economics.
"When you are up there in space, you need to be together as a society. There needs to be rules. Any self-sustaining community has things like laws," Krishnakumar said.
Living on a "flattened out" sphere
Mazumdar said the biggest challenge the team faced was to design a settlement that would sustain life but occupy a relatively small amount of space.
"Think of it like a sphere but really flattened out. That's what it looks like in terms of its structure," he said.
Mazumdar said they approached the project with the idea of a civilization in mind and that included "the food that they are going to have, the energy required, what they are going to do for fun."
"You have to think about, when you walk around the streets of Toronto for that matter, what you see and what you need," he added. "You need food for sure and you need different energy sources. That's how we sort of brainstormed from there."
Students to present plans in Missouri in May
Mazumdar said creating the entertainment aspects of the settlement was "a lot of fun."
The team looked at entertainment because "the human population would need diversion." One such diversion is the inclusion of a virtual zoo.
"You are going to be up there for who knows how long so, of course, you do need something to keep the people entertained," he said.
The students will present their project at the International Space Development Conference in St. Louis, Missouri this May.
The international contest is coordinated by the NASA Ames Research Centre, the National Space Society and San Jose State University.