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.



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

If you’re in college and interested in pursuing a math related major, you won’t want to miss these scholarship opportunities. We all know how important math is in being able to understand the world around us. STEM and mathematics in particular help prepare you for many jobs ahead of you. The Actuarial Foundation, the International Association of Black Actuaries and the Organization of Latino Actuaries are now accepting applications for the 2021-2022 academic year for the following scholarships to help underserved populations have better access to math related college and career opportunities:

Actuarial Diversity Scholarship

Deadline: April 15, 2021

Actuary of Tomorrow – Stuart A. Robertson Memorial Scholarship

Deadline: June 1, 2021

Curtis E. Huntington Memorial Scholarship

Deadline: March 1, 2021

The International Association of Black Actuaries Scholarship Program

Deadline: March 31, 2021

The Organization of Latino Actuaries

Deadline: March 31, 2021


Whether you go on to become an actuary or not, these scholarships for mathematics majors are valuable, real-money opportunities to advance your career through pursing math related opportunities! Check them out!

Earlier we posted about “creative” competitions that had winter and spring registration or submission deadlines. Today we wanted to highlight some of the STEM competitions that are still open for students to get involved. Many of the big STEM competitions you’ve probably heard of require early participation in the school year. Programs like the big science fairs, science olympiad, and robotic competitions often require students to start early in the year in order to be eligible for any of the spring tournaments. However, some of the lesser known STEM competitions have submission opportunities well into the spring semester. Here’s a short list of a few we know about that might be interesting for you or your students to check out in the new year! And of course, don’t forget to take a look through our whole database of STEM competitions for other ideas!


You Be the Chemist – this competition helps students learn all about chemistry. Registration of schools is due by January 22, 2019.

AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest – submit your photos of a physical phenomenon! Submissions open March 1 through May 15, 2019.

BotBall – this autonomous robot competition is great for students to learn coding, robotics, and engineering. Registrtaion is conducted at different times for different regions, but it is typically open through the winter months.

DNA Day Essay Contest – in this program students have to write an essay about important concepts in genetics! Submissions generally open in early January and will run through March 8th, 2019.

Engineering Girl Essay Contest – this twist on the typical STEM competition asks students to submit a fictional story involving an engineering girl! Submissions due February 1, 2019.

Exploravision this is a great future-looking challenge for students interesting in learning about new technologies! Submissions are due February 8th, 2019.

World of 7 Billion Video Contest – an opportunity to learn about how population change affects our globe. Submissions due February 28th, 2019.

Purple Comet Math Meet – an international math contest for middle and high school students. Next contest begins April 2nd, 2019.

We all know that the season of college applications can be incredibly stressful. From deciding where to apply, to finding good recommendation letters, to writing essays, to worrying whether or not you'll actually get in, there are plenty of things keeping students and parents up late at night. Then, on top of everything, you have to wonder, how in the world are you going to pay for it all? 

According to the College Board, the average cost of annual tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Financial aid from the schools is becoming harder and harder to come by. However, academic competitions are stepping up to fill the void. In this previous post, we looked at the big science competitions and how they're helping thousands of students each year not only get accepted to, but also pay for college.

With this in mind, we wanted to research how mathematics competitions stack up. So we dug into it and identified 36 nationwide (United States) mathematics-focused competitions for high school students. We evaluated how they do in supporting our next generation of STEM leaders. For this analysis, we focused on "pure" math competitions, leaving out science fairs and other STEM research competitions that certainly include math, but have other specific topics as their main focus.

What did we find? First off, there is a new shining star among mathematics competitions. Only 14% of mathematical competitions for high school students directly offer significant college scholarships or cash awards (we defined the cutoff for this at being an award of >$1000 for the top team). The new leader among these is in its first year this fall - the Modeling the Future Challenge.

86% of the national mathematical competitions we researched included little or no direct prize money or scholarship awards for their winners. This does not mean they included no awards at all. Some have great travel opportunities for their top teams to go to international conferences or events. Many are tied into the Mathematical Association of America's network of contests leading toward the International Mathematics Olympiad. Some foundations then use student scores on these exams to provide scholarships. And for the few students that get the chance to go all the way to the international conference, this is indeed a great experience. So there certainly are benefits to these competitions.



The MTF Challenge leads the pack among math competitions providing $60,000 in guaranteed awards, and a $25,000 first place college scholarship. Not only that, but the Finalist Teams each receive an all-expense-paid trip to New York City where they participate in the Modeling the Future Symposium and meet with professional actuaries to learn how math can be applied to their future careers. 

The Modeling the Future Challenge takes students beyond the exam into real-world applied mathematics. It connects what you teach them in the classroom with actual data analysis and helps students see the true value in applying their mathematical knowledge to cutting edge technologies and careers. "The Modeling the Future Challenge echoes what actuaries do for their careers. It provides students with the opportunity to connect with what mathematics is all about," said Jason Leppin, Executive Director of The Actuarial Foundation, the non-profit behind the competition. “We want to provide life-changing scholarships for students, and demonstrate that math really can lead to amazing careers like being an actuary, which is consistently ranked among one of the top rated careers.

To win the challenge, students analyze one of the hottest technologies around - autonomous vehicles - and use mathematical modeling to determine how they expect the adoption of autonomous vehicles to change the future. Will it revolutionize how we commute to work? Will it change the way we ship our packages and goods? Will it create new opportunities in how we design our cities? Students will use math to make their own decisions on the changes they expect, based on their own analysis of real data! They’ll write this up in a brief report and have a shot at The Actuarial Foundation’s industry leading big dollar scholarships.

So, this year, rather than just putting your students through another exam, make sure they don't miss out on the chance for a trip to New York City, the $60,000 award purse, and the big scholarships available through the Modeling the Future Challenge. Their college applications and future selves will definitely thank you for it. You can register your team of students up until October 28th. Then the 1-month challenge period begins, when students can analyze the data and submit their final projects which are due November 25th!

To learn more about the challenge topic, data sources, and submission requirements check out: www.mtfchallenge.org.



The Madrid regional Spanish Mathematics Competition – leading to national May Math Olympiad and the International Mathematics Olympiad.

Early in the morning on Saturday, April 22, Spain’s capital saw thousands of madrileños gather to enjoy a highly-anticipated competition. Eager fans, trainers, and family members flocked to Complutense University for a chance to see the result of months of practice by the some of the most skilled young contestants. El Clásico (the famed match between the Real Madrid and Barcelona football clubs) was scheduled for the following day, but this spectacle sought to showcase a different sort of excellence. The crowd did not form around the soccer field, but rather the math department.

The XXI edition of the Concurso de Primavera de Matemáticas (the 21st Spring Math Competition) brought together the sharpest students from secondary schools throughout the region. Nearly 4,000 participants, ranging from 5th to 12th grade, arrived at the university at 8 AM on Saturday morning ready to tackle 25 math and logic problems in less than 90 minutes. After months of honing their problem-solving skills with practice exams, students from more than 500 secondary schools set their sights on making the list of 150 overall highest-scorers and grabbing the title of top 3 scorers in their age level. The most ambitious among the younger students looked to stand out and qualify for one of the 25 spots in the nation-wide XXIII Olimpiada de Mayo (the 23rd May Math Olympiad).

Carlos and Valentina, two of my students at IES Valdebernardo – a local high school in Spain- arrived at the Complutense with their work cut out for them. IES Valdebernardo has failed to place even one student among the top 150 scorers during the last five competitions. A quick look at results from the previous five competitions reveals the distance between Valdebernardo and the top-performers:

  • Colegio San José del Parque – At least 1 top-scoring student each year.
  • IES San Juan Bautista – At least 2 top-scoring students each year, including three years with 4 top-scorers.
  • Colégio Alemán – At least 4 top-scoring students each year, including one year with 6 and one year with 8 top-scorers.

The powerhouse of Colégio Alemán (Madrid’s German School), supported by millions of Euros in investment from the German government, offers a consistently impressive and intimidating record. IES Valdebernardo, an average public school within the community of Madrid, boasts little more than a math department excited to offer practice exercises to interested students and encourage their participation. The school lacks a well-developed blog devoted exclusively to math olympiads, a hallmark among high-achieving institutions. The disparity in resources and energy committed to the competition was noticeable between these two schools.

Carlos and Valentina seemed unbothered by this dynamic as they waited for their respective groups to start the exam. Once the doors opened, they calmly took their seats and began to grind out answers. Meanwhile, parents and teachers took in the day’s entertainment (a comedy duo of mathematicians tossing Pythagoras puns left and right). The spinning of cognitive wheels was all but audible as participants wrestled with questions on practical and theoretical algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus that would stump most educated adults (including the author).

An exhausting 90 minutes after they entered, the students emerged from classrooms and bolted for the front of the building, where official answers would soon be posted. Carlos and Valentina seemed lukewarm about their performance, opting for cautious optimism. Relieved and abuzz with excitement, the competitors compared strategies and answers, fist-pumping or groaning as the correct solutions were revealed. An especially tricky logic question concerning a girl named Alba’s collection of pyramids and prisms was the topic of much discussion for the youngest group, while the oldest students rehashed a monster problem about the graph of a parabolic function. Proud parents and teachers peppered their children with questions, the atmosphere electric.

At the end of the day, the list of winners was posted: 5 students from Colégio San José del Parque, 3 from IES San Juan Bautista, 7 from Colégio Alemán, and 0 students from IES Valdebernardo would be taking home the trophies and certificates for excellence in mathematics. Nonetheless, Carlos and Valentina cheerfully headed home. Valentina, sounding like a true purist, explained to me that she came for one simple reason: she loved math and the immense satisfaction of applying the right theorem or crafting a unique solution to a tricky problem. Having had the additional privilege of competing with the brightest young stars in the world of mathematics, Valentina was content with her performance. But fans of IES Valdebernardo are eager to see if she can knock one of the regulars from Colégio Alemán off the list of top scorers next year and replace them with “IES Valdebernardo!”