NASA Embraces Competition, Here’s Why and how to get involved

Posted September 20, 2020 by Jessica Fahrenholtz

Every year NASA holds exciting and innovative challenges that inspire students from all over the world. From Moonbuggies to robot-astronauts. Why does a global icon like NASA encourage ambitious students to compete in these programs? There are many reasons.


For one, essential life skills are often missing from the school curriculum. The standard school curriculum leaves little opportunity to encourage students to really demonstrate all that they can do. Traditional schools don’t leave much room to challenge students and encourage collaboration and risk-taking.


In contrast, the real world is fast-paced and challenging. Students need the opportunity to push themselves to be their best. Academic competitions are a fun, collaborative, and educational way to teach students the critical skills missing in the school curriculum. Student Competitions are a great way to teach outside of the box and help students demonstrate their true academic passions and abilities. Many people will wonder what the value these competitions provide above and beyond a typical classroom. Here are 6 of the critical life lessons students can learn from competing in addition to STEM smarts:


  • Academic Competitions Teach Students How to Work on a Team.

No matter what students want to be when they grow up, working well, and collaborating with others is crucial to their success. Competitions allow students to work side by side towards a common goal. They are also an excellent way for students to learn how to divide and conquer, delegate tasks, take responsibility, and succeed as a part of a larger whole. These experiences will serve them well as they venture into college and adulthood.


  • Academic Competitions Demonstrate the Power of Perseverance and Hard Work.

When a students’ only chance to perform is in the classroom, they miss being pushed from good to great. Many students know what it takes to make a good grade and work hard at maintaining that. If you allow those same students to compete with other bright minds from around the country, they are naturally pushed to bring their best and try things they may have shied away from in school.


  • Academic Competitions Show Students When to Lead and When to Take Direction.

In school, students are rarely given a chance to stand up and lead the way. However, to succeed in competitions, students must step out of their comfort zone and make crucial decisions on their own. This means figuring out what direction they want to go, who is leading the way, and keeping the entire project moving cohesively from start to finish. All of these are important skills students will bring with them into adulthood.


  • Academic Competitions Teach Students How to Win and Lose.

Win-lose situations are always challenging, and that’s precisely why they are not incorporated into the school curriculum. Unfortunately, in real life, we will all win and lose at some point. Knowing how to handle a loss as well as a win means being able to show compassion, empathy, advocacy, and grace. Competitions give students the unique opportunity to invest in their projects and their teams and learn these valuable human lessons.


  • Academic Competitions Show Students How to Handle Stressful Situations.

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Understanding how to manage stressful situations and perform well under pressure is a skill that you can only learn by doing it. Allowing students to feel the stress and anticipation of their role in the competition will teach them valuable coping mechanisms. These skills will enable students to better perform in college, their career, and personal life.


  • Academic Competitions Show Students What Their Strengths and Weaknesses are.¬†

In a structured environment like school, there is little opportunity for students to learn what they are naturally great at and what area they should focus on improving. Competitions allow students to see their strengths and weaknesses in action and see how they affect the outcome. Situations like this are priceless teaching moments students will be fortunate to have early in life.


5 ways to engage in NASA Related Competitions:

Want to get noticed by NASA and improve your cred with related science and engineering colleges and companies? Check these competitions out:

1. Moon to Mars Ice Challenge – an engineering design and technology demonstration contest for eligible undergraduate and graduate students.

2. 2021 Big Idea Challenge – University teams are asked to submit robust proposals for near-term dust mitigation (or dust tolerant) technologies that could be used for lunar applications near or in the Moon’s South Pole.

3. Human Exploration Rover Challenge – high school and college students around the US build their own human-powered rovers.

4. Zero Robotics – a high school robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station!

Featured Competition

5. Plant the Moon Challenge¬† In support of NASA’s Artemis Program and NASA SSERVI, the Institute of Competition Sciences and the University of Central Florida’s Exolith Laboratory are launching the Plant the Moon Challenge to engage students of all ages in growing their own crops in lunar simulant soil! Bringing your own food to space becomes expensive when you plan to stay for a long time, or increase the number of people to more than a handful. Growing food from lunar soil could help expand NASA’s long-term exploration efforts. In this challenge teams will be provided with lunar simulant created at the UCF Exolith Lab to match the lunar mare soil. Teams will also receive a project guide to step through designing their own plant growth experiments that will be sent back to our network of NASA scientists!

This challenge is currently gathering Expressions of interest to get early access for Project Kits including lunar simulant, the Project Guide, and a soil pH meter. Signup today to make sure your name is on the list when the program opens!


While our education system does its best to prepare students for the future, certain skills can only be taught through life experience. Skills like perseverance, collaboration, grit, and determination are the skills that set students apart for organizations like NASA. These are also the skills often overlooked by school curriculum. To find more competitions that may help get you noticed by NASA, explore competitions at the Institute of Competition Sciences through our online database. Don’t forget, use the upgraded Premium Account features to track deadlines of the competitions most interesting to you and help ICS expand our resources while you’re at it!