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Next Stop NASA

Designing a space settlement under time constrictions and stress may not be everyone's idea of fun but a team from Redcliffe 6th Form have just triumphed in the UK Space Design Competition doing just that, and are on their way to NASA in Houston this summer to compete at an international level. Year 12 student Camilla Lee was the catalyst for our participation in the competition. Having got the initial idea, all she needed was a team ...


Camilla writes: "The idea of starting the competition by myself seemed very daunting. I realized that the the team would need exactly the right balance of skills and needed to be really dedicated to win. I made posters advertising the competition and stuck them around the Sixth form, but my fear of not gathering a team on time made me resort to social networking. Within an evening, I had a full team of 12 enthusiastic year 12s so I happily took posters down the day after I put them up!"

The competition website (www.uksdc.org) gave the team their 'brief'. They had to imagine that it was the year 2083, and an organisation called 'The Foundation Society' had requested the creation of a video advertisement for their new 'Bastia' settlement. The Earth had run out of resources, and it was necessary to mine nickel from an asteroid called '4660 Nereus' (a real asteroid). The settlement had to house 1000 workers on a 4-year contract, and the advert had to attract all of these necessary personnel.

After studying the brief, we started work. We divided ourselves into small groups to do research on specific elements of the brief, such as the specified asteroid, the processes of mining asteroids and the dangers humans face in space. Once we collected sufficient research, several members of the group compiled that information into a script. Media skills also played a huge role in presenting our design. Several members of the group created artwork, James Lansdowne created an outstanding animation and we sourced music from a royalty free content site. Filming was complete over two days, and the final video took just under a week to edit. We submitted our final video in November with only days to spare from the deadline. Here is a link to our submitted video,

 

After weeks of anticipation and waiting for the result of our entry to approach, January the 7th finally came around. The brilliant news came towards the end of a long day, and led to lots of very excited texts and Facebooking.

The UK national competition took place on a weekend at the end of March at Imperial College London. After enduring a 2-hour minibus journey, kindly driven by Mr. Gregson, we arrived at Imperial at around half past nine.  Here we were going to have to work as a much larger team with students from other schools, pitched against three other equally large teams. The introduction was given to us by the co-founder, Anita Gale and by NASA representatives, who explained the weekend's structure and the new challenge. We would be designing a space settlement that was to orbit the moon, acting as a port for cargo and humans. We then headed off to our company head quarters and started creating.

After some brief mingling with the rest of our new team (now 48 people) the group was then divided into 4 smaller sub teams that would handle the Structure, Operations, Human resources and Computing/robotics of our design, and we began to work on the presentation. Initially we focused on researching the lunar atmosphere and fact-finding, and began to gather ideas for the very basic version of our design. Slowly and steadily, we started to piece together this space station. Communication was key at this stage, and there were people constantly running between groups, sharing ideas and exchanging figures! We decided to use a Google Drive to allow the groups to share work quickly and easily, and to put together preliminary slides for our presentation.

We were thrown out of Imperial at 10pm, when we began to make our way to the hotel. There we continued work! We had our final dry run at four in the morning, and at that point, we were panicking about who was speaking and how. Morning dawned and, running on a lacklustre breakfast and somewhat sub-optimal amount of sleep, we proceeded from the accommodation back to 'Vulture HQ', with some people continuing preparations for the pitch even on the tube. The company managed to cram in a dry run of sorts (leaving a considerable amount to be desired) before we were eventually told we couldn't push the time any further and had to make our way to the lecture theatre.

The first two teams presented, competently but suffering some 'technical difficulties', and then the judges really laid into them. One team was enlightened to the fact that their main structural material was a flexible, cloth like fabric, and the other raised eyebrows with regards to the plan to take 10,000 chickens into space with them. We were next up.

The pitch was limited to 35 minutes exactly and we were the only team so far to hit that pretty tightly. It was a good effort overall, with some good individual delivery. Then, of course, our interrogation... The 10 minutes it took was long, a sea of hundreds of faces looking down on you, watching you squirm. We had, I think it's fair to say, the biggest grilling there was. All the other questioning slots were met with respectful silence from the audience. We got sharp intakes of breath and 'oooh's, plus the odd roar of laughter. With hindsight, they were the most trivial of issues, and perhaps an indication that we had done very well. But having it pointed out that, not only was your hairdressers bigger than your grocery store, but you employed more hairdressers than computer scientists, felt like a public humiliation.

The fourth presentation was the most slick. It was also painfully cheesy, featuring mnemonics and catch phrases and, if I recall correctly, almost an entire recital of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

We waited for what seemed like hours of agonising torment before the judging Panel finally reappeared.  They prolonged the torture. All four team names were on the screen for four of the longest minutes anyone had ever endured, before finally our team, Vulture Aviation, was circled. After seconds of processing this the team leapt up screaming, and all 48 of us went down congratulating each other.

Cheer

The drama was not over, however. We now had to choose 12 people from the 48 in our team to go on and represent the UK in the international finals in Houston, Texas at the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre. This was a long and difficult process because none of the adults were allowed to influence our decision and we had to choose all 12 between ourselves. After lots of bickering, six out of the 12 people that managed to get selected were Redcliffe students. That's half of the UK team!

The international final will take place over four days, starting from the 1st of August until the 5th. The setup for the international competition will be exactly the same, but we will be given four whole days to get our presentation done and we will also be competing with, and against, representatives of other countries from all over the world. It is definitely going to be challenging as there will be many different cultures and linguistic barriers that we'll have to work around, but we are all very excited and grateful to have the opportunity to compete in a competition of such a high calibre.

Written By, The Redcliffe UKSDC Team
Camilla Lee, Cai Burton, James Lansdowne, Matt Price, Nancy Ley, Joanna Dombek, Elenya Knops, Hani Salih, Sam Cheek, Matt Gilpin, Matt Lexton and Nathan Thomas

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