Want to Work for NASA? Start with these Student Competitions!

Posted June 12, 2022 by Joshua neubert

When people think of NASA the first things that come to mind are usually rockets and robots; however, NASA works on so many incredible areas of technology development that most of us don’t associate with the high tech space exploration administration. From advancing crop science that helps farmers increase their yields to improving how biomedical researchers can grow human tissues, NASA researchers have their hands in nearly every industry here on Planet One. And luckily, there are great ways for students to get involved and get recognized by NASA!

We’re fortunate to be living in the Artemis era, as second golden era of space exploration where NASA has a prime directive to return humans to the Moon and push on to Mars! Right now, excitement about space is growing faster than a speeding neutrino! The recent launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the development of new commercial space stations, the discovery of Earth-like exoplanets, the launch of commercial astronauts and (soon!) sending crewed missions to the moon! There’s never been a better time to get involved in space programs than right now.

But how do you get started? How do you get recognized by NASA. I mean, those people are wicked smart! If you’re a student in high school or college and you want to work at NASA helping to advance any of the amazing projects on the horizon, it might seem a little daunting to even know how to begin. Well, NASA, and a bunch of supporting organizations have tons of amazing competitions and contests that students can participate in.

These student competitions, contests, challenges, and prize programs are amazing ways to get recognized by and connected with NASA. Not only that, their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) focus, helps students prepare for a wide array of college and career opportunities. So if you want to get recognized by the smarty pants at NASA, you might want to start here. We’ve compiled a list of our top competitions that can help you get connected with NASA!


1.   Plant the Moon and Mars Challenge

Age Range: Elementary, Middle, High, and College

Tags: Citizen Science, Science Fair, Agriculture, Botany, Lunar Exploration, Mars Exploration, Life Support, Mission Design.

This STEM competition challenges teams of up to 10 students to see who can grow the best crops in Lunar or Martian regolith! It combines agriscience, farming, and botany with space exploration, planetary science, geology, and NASA mission technology development. Teams receive 5kg packs of simulated regolith painstakingly engineered by the University of Central Florida’s Exolith Laboratory to be as close to the real thing as possible. Through an 8 week grow period, students conduct their own experiments to test out which types of crops grow best with which types of fertilizers added to the simulated regolith.

Students get connected with NASA researchers, botanists, and university academics to learn how NASA is helping to advance crop science for space exploration and for the agriculture industry here at home. Anyone interested in testing out their hand at being an astrofarmer, check out this citizen science competition!

Learn more: https://plantthemoon.com/


2.   Lunabotics

Age Range: College

Tags: Robotics, Mining, Lunar Exploration

LUNABOTICS is a STEM competition for college students that supports NASA’s lunar technology development by focusing on lunar construction with a challenge to build robots to simulate building a section of a berm on the lunar surface. On the lunar surface, a berm would surround lander launch and landing pads to prevent dust and debris from spreading onto habitats and experiments during.  The challenge provides students exposure to NASA’s systems engineering process: design, develop and evaluate robots, and an opportunity to be involved in a challenge with other community colleges, colleges/universities at KSC. The teams will also perform public outreach, submit systems engineering papers and present and demonstrate their work to a NASA review panel.


3.   Human Exploration Rover Challenge

Ages: High, College

Tags: Rovers, Lunar Expedition

This STEM competition for high school and college students tasks teams to design, develop, build, and test human-powered rovers capable of traversing challenging terrain and task tools for completion of various mission tasks.


4.   International Space Settlement Design Competition

Age: high

Tags: Space Exploration, Mission Design, Habitats, Engineering

Through these hands on students competitions, teams of high school students adopt positions within a simulated professional workplace setting related to a future space settlement scenario. They are mentored by industry professionals as they work to deliver solutions to simulated futuristic aerospace engineering scenarios. Students gain a deeper understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) – specifically their application in the industries of today and tomorrow –providing them a platform to pursue careers in aeronautical, and other, fields and disciplines.


5.   Spaceport America Cup

Ages: college

Tags: Rocketry

The Spaceport America Cup is the world’s largest Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition for student rocketry teams. With over 120 teams from colleges and universities in twenty countries, the competition continues to grow every year. Students launch solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets to target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet. A great way for college students to connect their STEM skills with NASA launch goals!


6.   The American Rocketry Challenge

Ages: middle, high

Tags: Rocketry

The American Rocketry Challenge is the world’s largest rocket contest with nearly 5,000 students nationwide competing each year. The contest gives middle and high school students the opportunity to design, build and launch model rockets and hands-on experience solving engineering problems. This STEM competition for students is a sure way to get NASA to recognize your students’ work!


7.   NASA Student Launch Competition

Ages: middle, high, college

Tags: rocketry

NASA’s Student Launch is a research-based, competitive, experiential exploration activity. It strives to provide relevant, cost-effective research and development of rocket propulsion systems. The student competition provides science, technology, engineering, and math skills for students that are directly relevant to NASA. This project offers multiple challenges reaching a broad audience of middle and high schools, colleges, and universities across the nation.


8.   Micro-G Next

Ages: college

Tags: science, research, microgravity, Neutral Buoyancy

Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams encourages undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses an authentic, current space exploration challenge. The challenge includes hands-on engineering design, test operations and public outreach. Test operations are conducted in a simulated microgravity environment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas.


9.   NASA BIG Idea Challenge

Ages: college, graduate

Tags: robotics, rover, space exploration

The 2022 BIG Idea Challenge provides undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to design, develop, and demonstrate robotic systems with alternative rover locomotion modalities for use in off-world extreme lunar terrain applications. A panel of NASA and industry judges selected seven innovative ideas from the academic community for a wide range of alternative rover locomotion modalities to either enhance or replace traditional wheeled mobility systems that can expand our access to extreme terrain on the Moon and (later) on Mars.


10. Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE)

Age Range: High, College

Tags: Lunar Exploration, Programming, Satellites,

Inspired by NASA’s Apollo Moon landings over 50 years ago, the Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE) will be a catalyst for a new generation of space missions and explorers. This scientific and technological mission to the Moon will deploy 500 LunaSats to the lunar surface to conduct local and distributed science missions. LunaSats are tiny spacecraft with an integrated sensor suite that will be programmed by teams of students all over the world for a mission of their own design. These teams will be mentored by GLEE program staff through the programming, test, launch, and data gathering process. GLEE will be free to all teams that are selected for participation. From hands-on activities to a global citizen science network, GLEE is the next step to inspire and engage the world in a truly global mission to the Moon.


11. International Space Apps Challenge

Ages: high, college, graduate, professional

Tags: coding, programming

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge (Space Apps) is an international hackathon for coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists, and others in cities around the world, where teams engage the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) free and open data to address real-world problems on Earth and in space.

Each October, over the course of two days, Space Apps brings participants from around the world together at hundreds of in-person and virtual local events to solve challenges submitted by NASA experts. After the hackathon, project submissions are judged by space agency experts and winners are selected for one of 10 Global Awards. Space Apps provides problem-solvers worldwide with NASA’s free and open data, giving teams the opportunity to learn how to use these resources to solve each year’s challenges.


12. Zero Robotics Competition

Ages: Middle, High

Tags: Robotics, Microgravity, International Space Station, Coding, Programming

Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station. The competition starts online, on this website, where teams program the SPHERES to solve an annual challenge. After several phases of virtual competition in a simulation environment that mimics the real SPHERES, finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS. An astronaut will conduct the championship competition in microgravity with a live broadcast!


13. NASA AstroPhoto Contests

Ages: Elementary, Middle, High, College, Graduate

Tags: Photography, science, astrophotography, data science

NASA’s Astrophoto Challenges include two challenges: the MicroObservatory Challenge and the NASA Data Challenge. Teams entering either challenge could be selected by NASA’s Universe of Learning team as a standout entry for feedback from NASA scientists! In the MicroObservatory Challenge, students capture their own real-time telescope image of the Carina Nebula, and process it with MicroObservatory’s JS9‑4L tool. Then student teams consider how the image of the Carina Nebula that they processed compares to an image of the Carina Nebula processed by NASA. In the NASA Data Challenge, student teams select any of NASA’s images of Eta Carina & the Carina Nebula and process them with MicroObservatory’s JS9‑4L tool. Then students use all the techniques they’ve learned with MicroObservatory to process real NASA data and create their best image.


14. Space Entrepreneurs Academy

Ages: high, college

Tags: technology, research, science, entrepreneurship, mission design,

This high school and university student education program combines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with the excitement of commercial space entrepreneurship. The Space Entrepreneurs Academy (SEA) engages students in a wide array of aerospace topics through a unique library of diverse video interviews and custom tutorial videos from industry executives, academic researchers, and government leaders. The SEA provides an innovative digital learning opportunity to engage students in the STEM concepts behind commercial space entrepreneurship and encourages critical thinking about the future of the aerospace industry.

Each year, the academy concludes with a pitch competition presenting innovative new ideas for commercial space businesses from the top students around the world. Students completing the Space Entrepreneurship Academy are trained on a unique combination of entrepreneurship and aerospace content, gaining skills to help them bolster the rapidly growing workforce and launch the next wave of innovative aerospace products, services, and businesses.

The Space Entrepreneurs Academy opens in the fall of 2022. To receive information about this competition make sure you are registered on the ICS platform.



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