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/
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Find out more about these and hundreds of other competitions for students on the Institute of Competition Sciences platform! Join us as a featured member to get access to special discounts, unique competition opportunities, and to get an insider advice on how to succeed in all kinds of academic competitions.
Signup for your insider account at: www.competitionsciences.org
The future is bright for careers in tech. With job growth across the field, tech workers are in high demand. What’s more, tech careers have higher than average salaries and job satisfaction. So what can you do in a tech job? You could analyze data related to scientific research, engineer website and mobile applications, research and optimize companies’ marketing, develop video games, or work in cybersecurity for a government organization. When it comes to tech careers, the possibilities are endless.
However, tech jobs aren’t for everyone. As with any career, there are skills you need to develop in order to thrive in tech. If you’re interested in a tech career, start by practicing analytical, problem-solving, and project management skills as well as learning programming languages and common operating systems. There are many academic competitions that can help you learn and master these skills.
Competitions for a future in tech
American Computer Science League – Computer science contests for grade 11 and 12
CyberPatriot – Online cyber defense competition for teams of K-12 students
Cyber Robotics Coding Competition – Virtual 3D robotics tournament for grade 6-8
Future Problem Solving Program – Creative problem-solving competition for grades 4 – 12
Imagine Cup (Microsoft) – Global team computer science competition for students over 16
MakeX Spark Online Competition – Creative design competition for ages 6 to 13
National Cyber League – Cybersecurity competition for high school students
ProjectCSGirls – Tech and social issues focused competition for girls in grades 6-8
REACH Challenge – Team design-thinking project for middle school and high school students
STEM Fuse: Got Game Competition – Video game design competitions for grades 5-12
Technovation Girls – Free tech-based team competition for girls ages 10 – 18
Find more tech-focused competitions in the Institute of Competition Sciences (ICS) database. Upgrade to a premium account for additional tools to help track your progress in competitions and get special discounts on ICS-managed programs!
Back in 1983, the film War Games introduced the world to a new hero. He wasn’t big and strong. He wasn’t fast or athletic; not even a little bit. He probably couldn’t have thrown a football if his life depended on it or made contact with a fastball.
He did not look like the traditional hero in any way.
The character played by a young Matthew Broderick was most certainly a hero. If he was not able to figure out how to defeat "Joshua," the super-computer, nuclear war would have destroyed the world. But since he knew what to do when Joshua asked, “Shall we play a game?” the world lived on.
A War of Secrecy
Computers have come a long way since War Games was filmed, as has their potential for good and unfortunately, evil. People may not need to be as concerned about rogue networks launching nuclear missiles anymore. But the possibility of fiery death raining down from the sky is only one of the many problems people could face.
One that every American is aware of today is the 2016 Russian cyber-attacks on the electoral system prior to the 2016 Presidential election. The world will probably never know the full extent of the attacks, but according to one Bloomberg report, they were enough for then-President Obama to personally call Moscow to voice his concerns and pose sanctions on Russia.
The same report claims that election systems in 39 states were affected in some form by the Russian intrusions. Russian officials, of course, deny any involvement but have conceded the possibility a criminal element in Russia could have been involved without the government’s knowledge.
Cyber-attacks and incidents are becoming more and more common.
- May 2017: approximately 45,000 computers in 99 countries were attacked by ransomware. The ‘weapon’ is believed to have been part of a cache of cyber-weapons stolen from the NSA.
- June 2017: a ransomware-attack crippled thousands of computers across the Ukraine. ATMs to stop working, radiation monitors at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl failed, etc. At least 2000 organizations were affected as well as some international businesses.
- July 2017: hackers attempted to hack the business and administration systems of several nuclear facilities but failed.
These computer attacks have disrupted normal business operations to the point where some companies lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and have disrupted the lives of millions of people. It seems like every other month there is a new announcement of a company’s data being breached where we’re all asked to change our passwords again.
“Cyber criminals are becoming more industrialized and more organized,” Derk Fischer, a partner with PwC in Germany who deals in the delivery of cyber security assessment and consulting services, said in a statement (h/t Fox News). “What we’re seeing is the emergence of a new kind of ‘industry sector’ that thrives on the complex connectivity that characterizes the Internet.”
The global cost of cybercrime in 2015 was an estimated $500 billion. According to one study that questioned 383 organizations, the average cost of a cyber-attack was $4 million worldwide and $7 million in the United States. Costs are highest when the healthcare industry is involved (security-intellience.com).
And it’s only going to get worse!
According to current estimates, someone is made a victim of cybercrime every 18 seconds. There are 1.5 million victims a day and 556 million a year (go-gulf.com). Each year there are an average of 27 trillion malicious attacks.
The global cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $2 trillion by 2019 (securityintellience.com).
The global market for cyber security generated $63.7 billion in 2011. Six years later that number is up to $120.1 billion—and it is only expected to get higher.
A new Generation of Cyber-Cops
To stop these attacks, the world is going to need the best and brightest computer hackers and programmers in the world to help fight the good fight. It may not be glamorous or as sexy as being a secret agent—but the need is apparent and growing. It may not involve pulling the damsel in distress out of the fire, but it is heroic nonetheless. Rather than pull her out of the ‘fire,' you can keep it from happening in the first place.
Think of the impact you can make on just a single identity theft victim. Now imagine stopping an attack that had the potential to affect millions. What sort of impact would that make? The good thing is an ever increasing number of students are getting engaged in the fight as more and more programs are being created to help students understand cyber-security.
In today’s education system, Cyber-Security, is not typically on the roster of courses. However, for the passionate students across the country who are taking on this monumental task, the benefits are immense! Careers in the Cyber-Security space are one of the highest paying and highest in demand jobs in the technology industries!
To be the kind of person who can solve cyber-crime, requires an extraordinary amount of technical knowledge and know-how. These students don’t just learn it by listening to lectures in the classroom, they’re the ones jumping head-first into leading Cyber-Security Challenges. ICS has researched a slew of cyber-security competitions. Here we review a few that are helping build a new generation of “white-hat” security heroes to save us from the next big attack. And these academic competitions aren’t limited to students already involved, you too can try your hand— and your skills – at any or all of these great competitions!
The Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge
The Cyber 9/12 Challenge is not a straight-up hacking or coding challenge but tries to get students to see the bigger picture. Can they understand the technical issues going on and then analyze how they impact national security, international relations, and security studies?
Can you understand what is happening when a cyber-attack occurs and craft the necessary public policy to address it?
Students are tasked with responding to a cyber-attack, but they are also challenged with understanding how policy can change and evolve in relation to a crisis. As part of the competition, they will have to recommend policy changes, present them, and be able to justify them. As the attack evolves, they will need to be able to modify their recommendations as necessary and be able to explain why.
An important aspect of the challenge will be explaining the roles played by the government, military, law enforcement, private companies, and civilians.
This competition will not test your hacking skills, but it will give you a chance to apply them in a theoretical sense and understand the larger impact. It’s not a competition for the next CTU analysts on the front lines, but for the computer savvy future senator.
US Cyber Challenge
The Center for Internet Security runs the U.S. Cyber Challenge and does not mince words when it comes to the purpose of the competition. The cyber workforce is in need of talented individuals. What better way can there be to identify the right kind of people than to host a competition for them?
High school and college students that think they have what it takes can compete in a ‘Cyber Quest’ online. Those with the highest scores are invited out to a special week-long camp. As part of the camp experience, they will undergo specialized training by industry professionals, take part in workshops, a job fair, and a ‘Capture the Flag’ competition.
The camp experience wraps up with an awards ceremony that is often attended by cyber security industry pros and government officials.
If you would rather be on the frontlines of the cyber-war than the guy devising a policy to combat cyber-crime, this is the competition for you. Not only do you get to test your skills against the best the country has to offer, but Mom and Dad will love it because you could get a job when the contest is over!
The Cyber 9/12 Challenge identifies future cyber-policy makers. The U.S. Cyber Challenge identifies the next internet soldiers ready to join the battle against cyber-related crimes. CyberPatriot, the National Youth Cyber Education Program, takes it a step further. Its goal is not only to identify those with the right aptitude but to encourage kids to pursue careers in cybersecurity.
Created by the Air Force Association, CyberPatriot has aspects for children of all ages. Kids are introduced to the principles of cyber security and its importance through the Elementary School Cyber Education Program. The AFA began hosting CyberCamps in 2014. Last year they hosted 75 of them across the country.
Like the U.S. Cyber Challenge, CyberPatriot wants to test the skills of tomorrow’s IT professionals and does so with the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition is open to kids in middle school or high school in the United States. In each round of the competition, teams are given images of an operating system and are tasked with finding the security issues and hardening the system while not losing critical services.
CyberPatriot is a little different in that it wants to teach you before testing you. But in the end, it wants to know the same thing as the rest—who has the skills needed to get the job done?
The future is yours
Picking a career path is a daunting task at any age. What interests you now may not in a year—or five years. What better way can there be to find out if cyber security is a path you want to get started on then to learn about it and test yourself in an exciting competition? You may find yourself quickly on the path to becoming one of the 21st century’s great cyber-security heroes. So go ahead, get in the arena. We guarantee it will lead to something amazing.