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’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be on the moon, the Plant the Moon Challenge is the closest you can get right here on the Earth! In this competition, you’ll get hands-on with lunar simulant and discover what it takes to feed NASA astronauts on long-duration lunar missions. You’ll explore the question of can we grow enough crops on the lunar surface without having to take everything from the Earth? 

Plant the Moon Challenge

Sending Artemis to the Moon

NASA recently launched the Artemis program, fittingly named after Greek god Apollo’s twin sister, pledging to land the first woman on the moon by 2024 and to embark on sustainable exploration of the lunar surface by 2030. These moon explorations are preparation for future expeditions to Mars.

A key component of sustainable exploration is the ability of astronauts to grow their own food on long missions. In the decades since the Apollo mission, researchers have developed lunar soil simulants that mimic the chemistry, composition, and physical characteristics of the actual soil found on the moon’s surface. Lunar simulants allow researchers to test plant growth in agricultural conditions similar to what astronauts will face on future long-term lunar missions and determine if lunar soil can support crops.

What Grows on the Moon?

In the Plant the Moon Challenge, students become the investigators as they determine how best to grow plants on the moon. Working in teams of up to 10, participants will receive lunar regolith simulant from the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Laboratory and a project guide from the Institute of Competition Sciences (ICS). Because the Moon is completely sterile of any biologic components, students will need to explore what must be added to the lunar soil in order to allow crops to grow! Mass, grain size, water requirements, and other physical properties of the experiment will be important.

Students will design and implement their own projects testing variables related to plant growth in lunar simulant soil. Winning projects will be selected by NASA scientists and ICS scientific evaluators. The competition is open to individuals and teams of students from grade 6 to university level from around the world.

Plan the Moon is hosted by the ICS and premium account holders receive a 10% discount on the entry fee! Registration is open November 15 – January 15.

For questions about Plant the Moon, contact info@competitionsciences.org



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!

A global science experiment and challenge for grades 6 and up!

NASA’s Artemis Program is the United States’ new initiative to return to the Moon. Artemis will explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. However, returning humans to the Moon is challenging in many ways. One of those challenges is how to feed your crew. Bringing all of the food and water with you that is needed for long-duration human missions becomes a problem, particularly as you increase the length of stay or size of the crew. Using local resources on the Moon could greatly enhance our capabilities to explore our celestial neighbor.

This begs us to ask the question, can you plant the moon? Can you grow crops in lunar regolith (a.k.a. soil to us Earth-lubbers)? What nutrients, fertilizers, or other modifications to the regolith are needed to grow nutrient rich, sustainable food sources for future astronauts?

Understanding how we can use lunar soils to grow crops is one of the next great steps in supporting our return to the Moon! Scientists at NASA and the University of Central Florida among other places have started studying this with vegetables. Through the Plant the Moon Challenge you can help NASA scientists and the academic community at large learn the best lunar crop conditions by completing your own Plant the Moon Challenge project and sharing your results with the world!

The Plant the Moon Challenge is a global science experiment, learning activity and inspirational competition to see who can grow the best crops using lunar regolith simulant. Teams of middle school, high school, university, or adult participants will define and conduct their own plant growth experiments using the lunar simulant. Teams must define their own experimental parameters such as the structure of the plant growth setup, amount of water used, and nutrients or fertilizer added to the regolith simulant to help support plant growth. After a 10-week growing period teams will submit final project reports and join the global network of researchers helping to expand our lunar exploration capabilities!

Projects will be evaluated by NASA scientists and other researchers based upon a review of the experimental setup and the results of the plant growth. Teams will submit photos (optional videos), and an experiment report. Best-in-show awards will be provided to teams with the best plant growth results and experimental design.

Send in your Expression of Interest today to get on the early access list for this program when it is released (expected for November 2020)!

In June 2019, NASA will launch a full-stress test of the Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort System (LAS), called Ascent Abort-2, which will demonstrate the LAS can send Orion and its crew a safe distance from a failing rocket if an emergency arises during ascent to orbit. This flight test is a critical step to demonstrate Orion’s safety as NASA leads the next steps of human exploration into deep space.

NASA’s new App Development Challenge (ADC) – a 2019 pilot project for a longer term competition – provides an opportunity for middle and/or high school students to demonstrate the practice of coding and app development. In this ADC, students work in teams to develop an app that visualizes three minutes of simulated test data in support of the upcoming Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test.

In Round 1 of this challenge, participants will have the opportunity to chat with NASA subject matter experts to learn tips on how to make the app the best it can be. Teams will then post videos of their app designs online for consideration by NASA to use in future missions. In Round 2, teams with favorable submissions advance to present their app in an interview with NASA engineers working on the AA-2 flight test. After this round, NASA will select student team/s for an all-expenses paid trip to a NASA field center in early summer, 2019. The challenge launched on March 13, 2019 and Round 1 participation concludes with video
submissions on May 1, 2019, but teams must register with NASA by April 10th! So if your students like doing super cool things with super cool groups at NASA, make sure to check out this opportunity now!

To participate, student teams must:

  • Be able to process approximately three minutes’ worth of data smoothly.
  • Use any programming language (e.g. Java, Scratch, etc.) and/or operating systems (Windows, Android, etc.) to complete development of an app.
  • Read 21 double-precision floating point numbers (doubles) that represent position and rotation of the rocket’s three main parts from an external source.
  • Display all 21 doubles (although not necessarily simultaneously) in some meaningful form beyond text.
  • Submit a video of original student led work on the completed app.
  • Adhere to you school districts’ policies regarding participation in the challenge.
  • Complete program requirements as identified by the ADC team.

Check out the competition website here: www.nasa.gov/education/appchallenge

Or contact NASA to tell them you want to participate at: JSC-M2MSTEM@mail.nasa.gov


Its not unusual to hear about a family moving long distances so their kid can play football or basketball for a better school. If they believe their kid has elite-level talent but might not catch the eye of college coaches because their current school isn't competitive, moving can make a significant impact. Families on the athletic track will stop at nothing to get their kids the best opportunities to play for the top colleges.

But what if your kids are more likely to be on the “academic” track than pursuing a career as a professional athlete? Far more of us are likely to have successful careers by gaining knowledge and skills in academics than we are in becoming the next Tom Brady or Kevin Durant. Parents might not regularly move across the country so their kid can attend a school with a better academic reputation, but its not uncommon for them to scout out school districts to see which ones are better than others. If your kid has a knack for science, technology, and math, going to a school with programs that foster and nurture that knowledge can mean a lot for their future. More and more families are even moving to different neighborhoods based primarily on the strength of their school districts!

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to judge the true strength of a school district based just on report cards and standardized test scores. How would it look if we evaluated Football or other sports this way? What we need is to be able to differentiate schools based on real performance in specific academic scenarios. If schools participate in nationwide academic competitions - just like they do in sports - it becomes a bit easier to understand where its academic strengths really lie. We decided to do this with one industry and see what information we could glean about the high schools and states at the top of their game helping to prepare our kids for successful college and career opportunities.


America’s Next Top Rocket Scientist.

The aerospace industry includes some of the brightest minds in the country and according to business insider, it has one of the highest median job salaries out there at $145,000. With over 68,000 jobs in the sector (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) your kids are much more likely to be successful at an aerospace career than professional sports.

So, our question is how can we determine which high schools, school districts, or even states are better for budding aerospace engineers? We can start by analyzing performance in national competitions like the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Our team at ICS spent a little time reviewing the past decade of Team America Rocketry Competition (TARC) performances to see if there were any trends that stood out.

Over the last decade only 24 states have had a team place in the top 10 spots at a TARC competition. Just 9 states have had 5 or more top 10 placements and only one state, Texas, has had more than 10 top 10 placements.

Team America Rocketry Challenge Top Performing States, Institute of Competition Sciences

This is not entirely unexpected. Many of the states with the most top 10 finishes have at least one of two things going for them, if not both. Either (a) they include a large aerospace hub in their state (i.e. Texas is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Florida is home to Kennedy Space Center, and Alabama has Marshall Space Center), or (b) they are simply a more populous state with more schools competing (Texas is #2 in terms of population size, PA is #6, CA is #1).

What stands out even more when you consider these two factors are the states where neither of them exist. We then might attribute their strong standing in TARC even more to the exceptional performance of the schools and teachers themselves. Three states, Washington, Missouri, and Wisconsin fall into the category where they do not have strong aerospace sectors and don’t fall into the top 10 most populous states - WA is #13 most populous, MO is #18, and WI is #20 (Michigan straddles the edge of being in this category at #10 most populous).

Does this mean that the educators in Washington, Missouri, and Wisconsin are simply doing a better job teaching their students about aerospace and rocket science? Maybe. Maybe not. But it probably means that at the least, they’re doing more with less help from expert mentors in the industry. Should you flock to these states if you want your kids to become aerospace engineers? Probably not. Having the support of a strong industry sector nearby also plays a big role by providing more opportunities for students.


Exceptional Rocket Science High Schools

When we break it down to specific high schools, there are a few that stand out for having long-standing success in TARC competitions over the years. A total of 69 schools have made it into the top 10 placements over the last decade of TARC competitions. However, only 21 of them have had 2 or more repeat placements, and only 7 schools have had 3 or more top 10 placements.

Team America Rocketry Challenge top performing schools, Institute of Competition Sciences

The only school to have multiple first place finishes is Madison West High School (2009 and 2012). Plantation High School in Florida, and Madison West High School in Wisconsin tie with 5 overall top 10 finishes.


Becoming the Next Great Rocket Scientist.

So what does all of this mean if you want your kids to become the next great rocket scientist? Should you plan your move to a new state for a new school? Probably not. What may be the most important thing to take away from this brief analysis of Team America Rocketry Contest is not necessarily the specific schools finishing at the top of the ladder, or even the states with the most top 10 finishes. What matters most is to find a school that participates. You cannot learn to be the next great rocket scientist if you aren’t in the arena testing your skills.

According to the TARC website, more than 5,000 students participate in the competition each year. While this may sound like a large number, consider that there are 15.1 million high school students in public schools (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) in the United States.

So if you have kids interested in aerospace, NASA, or rocket science specifically, and you have some flexibility with which schools they attend, make sure to check in with them on if they participate in TARC and the other great academic competitions that can help your students get ahead. If they aren’t already participating, make sure they’d be willing to get a team started if your kid attends the school. Simply getting in the arena and letting your kids compete to test their skills is the most important thing you can do to help them get ahead in the college and careers of their choice! Don't let them miss out because their school isn't even in the game. 

Check out more information about TARC and other related competitions on the ICS Competitions Database.

Each year, major sports franchises look to pick up the hottest new players from high school and college teams. This past season, we saw some truly amazing rookie performances. In fact, the 2016-17 athletic seasons played host to some of the greatest rookie performances of all time. There is always conjecture about who should take the top spot and be recognized as “Rookie of the Year,” but every year there are a few who stand out. Here some of the top rookies from the latest sports seasons:

Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys (National Football League). With unrivalled speed, power, vision, elusiveness and skill, Elliot spearheaded the Dallas Cowboy’s superlative offense. With 322 carries, he was able to charge for 1631 yards at an average of 5.1 yards per carry and score 15 touchdowns. His amazing rookie season saw him earn Pro Bowl honors and take out the 2016-17 NFL rushing crown.

Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (Major League Baseball). Turner has fast become one of the most effective and powerful hitters in the MLB and transformed the Nationals offense into one of the most revered in the competition. He finished the season with a .342 batting average, .37 OBP, .567 slugging percentage, with 13 home runs, 14 doubles, 8 triples and 33 stolen bases.

Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks (National Basketball Association). Brogdon’s efficiency, reliability and accuracy has received much praise across the NBA. With 767 points, 113 turnovers, 84 steals, 317 assists, 213 rebounds and a free throw percentage of .865%. Brogdon’s 2016-17 season will unquestionably be remembered in the years to come as one of the great rookie performances.

Given that every year athletic competitions look to the up-and-coming rookies to see who will be the big stars in the future, we thought, why don’t we do this with Academic Competitions as well? We want to know who will be the next great engineers, scientists, and innovators. Who are the hot robotics teams coming up? Who can present the best debate arguments? Who can engineer the best new vehicles? Companies in every industry want to hire the best and the brightest, so let’s take a look at the rising stars in Academic Challenges!

To start out, ICS reviewed the Human Exploration Rover Challenge from NASA – an engineering design and performance competition for high school and college students. NASA needs the top scientists and engineers to join their ranks as they look at the future of space exploration – especially plans to go to Mars! So they’re very interested in where the next top young engineers and rover designers are. The 2017 season of this challenge certainly left us all in awe of one new upstart team.


Rookies Continue a Three-Year Rover Engineering Dynasty for Puerto Rico!

One rookie performance that by and large went unnoticed in the 2016-17 seasons was that of the Ramon Quinones Medina High School in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. This challenge requires students to design and build their own rover that is human-powered and able to carry two students over a half-mile obstacle course of simulated extra-terrestrial terrain made up of craters, boulders, ridges, inclines, crevasses and depressions. Puerto Rican teams have dominated the High School division of the Rover Challenge for the last 6 years – taking home first place for the past 3.

In 2017, it looked like the two-year champions would be taken out after some strong performances from other teams bested the performances from Puerto Rico’s traditional winners. Then one unexpected rookie team came through with a gutsy and determined performance to preserve the Puerto Rican dynasty!

In the first round, the experienced Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology team, from Reno, Nevada clocked an impressive circuit time of 5:09, sending them straight to the top of the standings after the first runs were completed (each team gets two attempts in this challenge, and the fastest time wins). It seemed that the Puerto Rican dynasty would finally come to an end as none of the teams were even close to this time.

Ramon Quinones Medina High School’s first run was a disaster; they weren’t even able to clock an official time for the run due to setup problems. However, as they sat poised at the start line for their 2nd run, they were surely as determined as ever to make this last shot count. Their incredible second run, must have stunned all spectators and competitors as they seemed to fly over and around the obstacles clocking an impressive time of 4:12. Nearly a minute faster than the Round 1 best time! As the remaining teams clocked in their times, even the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology wasn’t able to beat it and Puerto Rico once again held on to the championship, although through a completely unexpected turn of events!

With Puerto Rico taking such a dominant position in the challenge for the past 6 years, we have to ask, what is the secret of their success? According to NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center Education Specialist Diedra Williams, “they network, they support one another, they train together… It's hard for some teams traveling from far away to raise sizeable cheering sections to come with them. The teams from Puerto Rico get around this problem by rallying to support each other -- playing music, singing and rooting for their new competitors just as enthusiastically as the veterans. That positivity and energy definitely is reflected in their performances." Crowd support and high morale seem to be one key factor in addition to the team's technical skill.

In fact, Puerto Rico dominated the Human Exploration Rover Challenge in both divisions this year. The US territory took 1st and 3rd place finishes in both the High School and Collegiate Divisions.

High School Division

  • First Place: Ramon Quinones Medina High School of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, with a time of 4 minutes, 12 seconds
  • Second Place: Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology of Reno, Nevada, with a time of 5 minutes, 9 seconds
  • Third Place: Teodoro Aguilar Mora of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, with a time of 6 minutes, 20 seconds

College/University Division

  • First Place: University of Puerto Rico at Humacao Team 1, with a time of 4 minutes, 21 seconds
  • Second Place: Rhode Island School of Design of Providence, with a time of 6 minutes, 45 seconds
  • Third Place: University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, with a time of 7 minutes, 14 seconds

The rookie team at Ramon Quinones Medina High School pulled out a victory at the last minute; extending the Puerto Rican dynasty for a third year. Their amazing performance certainly lifted this rookie team up to be a contender for best rookie performance of 2016-17 in our world of Academic Competitions. They will be a source of inspiration for rookie engineering teams all over the world for next April’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge!

The next NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge will take place in April, 2018. Perhaps we will see another strong performance from this year’s rookies at Ramon Quinones Medina High School. Or maybe we will see a new set of rookies stand out. Be sure to tune in as the next wave of young engineers, their teams, and supporters descend upon Rocket City (Huntsville, Alabama) this coming spring.

If you think your school might have the next great Rookie Team for the challenge, don’t miss out, you can still register new teams by contacting NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center Academic Affairs Office at: MSFC-RoverChallenge2018@mail.nasa.gov