This past June, aerospace professionals, scientists, and a former astronaut gathered at Kennedy Space Center to celebrate the top student winners of the Plant the Moon Challenge NASA Space Grant Regional Expansion Project. The Spring 2023 Season of the Challenge kicked off a partnership between the Institute of Competition Sciences and six Space Grant Consortia on a NASA-funded Regional Expansion Project led by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. Through this expansion project, students from Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia competed for regional Best in Show Awards and the top placement in the Regional Expansion Project. Winners in the middle and high school divisions were awarded a trip to NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC)  in Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

The winning middle school team came from Manassas Park Middle School in Virginia and the winning high school team from the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology in  South Carolina. During the program both student teams presented their research projects, recapping methods, successes, and lessons learned as they explored how their crops best in Lunar regolith simulant. Manassas Park Middle School won for their project, “Pea Shooting to the Moon: An analysis of how different mixtures of regolith, soil, and compost effect pea shoot growth over an 8-week grow period,” and the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology team won for their research titled, “Pots and Pillows: Growing Potatoes In Lunar Regolith Soil.”

Students were joined by special guest speakers including Dr. Mary Sandy, Director of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium; Hortense Blackwell Diggs, Director for the Center of Engagement and Business Integration Services at KSC; Trent Smith, Research Advisor for Space Plant Biology and Space Crop Production at KSC; Anna Metke, Director of Operations at Exolith Lab; Amanda White, Operations Manager for the Institute of Competition Sciences, and former NASA Astronaut Kathy Thornton. Speakers extended congratulatory remarks, shared their own life experiences and challenges, and expressed the importance of the research conducted by the students to the industry as a whole. 

To wrap up the event, teams were awarded certificates and plaques for their successful participation in the Plant the Moon Challenge Regional Expansion Project, and the ceremony concluded with tours of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Jaydeep Mukherjee, Director of the Florida Space Grant Consortium, offered closing remarks and a final congratulations to student participants. Teams spent the bus ride back to the airport recounting their favorite parts of the day and looking ahead to newly discovered opportunities to continue connecting with NASA and the future of space food. 

Registration for the fall 2023 season of The Plant the Moon Challenge is currently open, and the NASA Space Grant Regional Expansion Project will be back in spring 2024 inviting top teams to the Regional Experience at Kennedy Space Center. If you want to participate in either the fall or spring season of the Plant the Moon Challenge stay updated by subscribing to the PTMC Newsletter!

Educational competitions were no exception to those having to pivot from live events to virtual events due to the pandemic. Many competitions were left with the choice last year to cancel their culminating conferences and events of the competition season or quickly adapt their programs to the virtual space. The following educational competitions not only engage participants to solve incredible problems but have taken lemons and made lemonade by bringing about some outstanding virtual conferences and symposiums for their finalist teams to compete.

Check out these competitions making waves with their programs and upcoming virtual events!


Future Problem Solving Program International Conference 2021: Neurotechnology

June 9th – 14th, 2021

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Future Problem Solving Program International’s (FPSPI) VIRTUAL International Conference will host over 2,200 problem-solvers from around the globe. The Opening Ceremony on June 10th, 2021 will kick off this annual event!

Champion problem solvers who have earned their spot at the International Conference will have the opportunity to virtually compete with others from around the world and will have access to many virtual collaborative experiences as well as their specific competitions. Several speakers will share sessions with students and collaborative sessions include such events as the Coach Connection, Senior Forum, Parent Meeting, and CmPS Tips and Tools.

These 4th-12th grade students have displayed futuristic thinking and the creative problem-solving process; local qualifying competitions earned them a coveted invitation to the conference. Through its programs, FPSPI prepares these students to be tomorrow’s leaders, ready to solve global problems. Global Issues Problem Solving and Scenario competitors arrive equipped to tackle potential neurotechnology problems set in the near future. These teams and individuals must research all aspects of the topic to be prepared for competitive events where a futuristic scenario will be analyzed and addressed.

Details on the topic can be found here.

Community Problem Solving is showcased in a featured event, displaying projects spanning the past year. For these student-driven projects, the participants designed a project to serve an identified need in their community. The Community Problem Solving Showcase will feature videos and posters on the FPSPI’s virtual online platform. Their YouTube channel will also feature student projects so the public can admire these dynamic youth and learn about the change they enacted.



Modeling the Future Challenge 2021 Symposium

April 22 -23rd, 2021

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The Modeling the Future Challenge (MTFC) Symposium will virtually host the top 12 finalist teams to join leading actuaries, scientists, and business leaders from across the actuarial industry. An opening ceremony and keynote on April 22nd, 2021 will kick off the event. Students will then present their projects via pre-recorded videos to a live panel of actuary judges who evaluate the projects and select the four teams who will receive their part of a $60,000 award purse! 

The MTFC by the Actuarial Foundation and managing partner, the Institute of Competition Sciences, tasks students with identifying and characterizing current or future risks, and using mathematics to make the best recommendations for how to manage or respond to those risks.

The 2020-21 MTFC launched an “open theme” for the challenge in which students got to choose their own project topic, similar in structure to science fairs. They then followed the Actuarial Process, designed to guide students through the stages of identifying a project topic and completing their research report for the MTFC like actuaries do for their companies and clients.

The MTFC virtual symposium is a one-of-a-kind experience for students who have a chance to participate in career sessions, problem-solving activities, icebreaker trivia events, and other unique experiences from their partners. At the conclusion of the Symposium, four teams will walk away with college scholarships, but all the students will have an amazing experience encouraging them to continue pursuing mathematics and data science in their own futures.


The Plant the Moon Challenge Spring Summit

April 28th – 29th, 2021

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NASA scientists, Space Grant Consortiums, and other experts join the Plant the Moon Challenge (PTMC) for a virtual display of final presentations and best-in-show awards on April 29th-30th, 2021. This event will be the inaugural finalist summit for the Plant the Moon Challenge!

The PTMC is produced by the Institute of Competition Sciences in partnership with Exolith Labs – the competition is a global science experiment, learning activity, and inspirational project-based-learning challenge to see who can grow the best crops using lunar regolith simulant.

Participants in the Plant the Moon Challenge will join this experiment and research challenge to examine how vegetable crops can grow in lunar soil. Each team will receive real lunar soil simulant from the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Labs! Teams will design and conduct a set of experiments using this lunar simulant to grow crops for a future long-duration lunar mission.

Teams will use a custom-designed Project Guide to help 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 lunar simulant to support plant growth. After a 10-week growing period, they submit final project reports and join the global network of researchers helping to expand the world’s lunar exploration capabilities!

All participants with completed projects will be invited to showcase their projects at the virtual symposium with NASA scientists, program executives, and other dignitaries where Best-in-Show awards will be presented to teams with the best experiments.




If you are interested in any of the competitions and events above or you’d like to learn about others, head to our competitions page to see what academic competitions are coming up. Set up your account to follow competitions that excite you and stay up-to-date on all the news with academic competitions.

Upgrade to a premium account so you can track your progress in competitions, get insider information on academic competitions, access the I.C.S. competitions concierge, and gain exclusive discounts on ICS-managed programs


Many people dream about what it would be like to live in space, but NASA is already hard at work figuring out the logistics of how to do just that. Even with modern technology sustaining life in space long term will be impossible unless we learn how to create a reliable and consistent food source.


By getting back to the roots of survival as humans, NASA has already begun working on growing plants in space through their veggie experiment. This experiment sounds simple but growing a plant in space is nothing like it is here on earth.


To master the art of growing food in space, NASA has devoted a ton of time and energy to learning exactly how to grow food on the unique surface of the moon. Cracking the code and figuring out precisely what it takes to grow food in space will allow us to take long-duration lunar missions and get us one step closer to living in space.


In fact, NASA’s Artemis Program has set a goal of sending humans to the moon as soon as 2024. That is just three short years away!


With humans soon destined for space, NASA is focusing their attention on learning how to use the resources abundantly found on the moon to grow enough food to sustain astronauts while they are away from earth.


If they can figure it out, it will make long-duration lunar missions more reasonable and open up a world of possibilities for our future in space. This mission is crucial, and NASA knows that sometimes the best innovations come from our students’ bright young minds. That is why they are allowing students to be a part of this experiment and help NASA learn the best way to grow vegetables on the moon through the Plant the Moon Challenge.

Learn more about the Plant the Moon Challenge and how to engage your students!

This global science experiment gives students the opportunity to learn and gain inspiration helping NASA solve a real problem. Students who sign up for the Plant the Moon Challenge will receive a Plant the Moon Activity Kit, which includes lunar regolith simulant, a project guide, and a pH meter. With these tools, ‘ students will compete to see who can grow the best crops using the resources found on the moon.


This experiment encourages students to think outside the box by setting their own experiment parameters, including the structure of the setup, how much water they decide to give their plants, and if they want to use any nutrients or fertilizer along with their lunar simulant. This freedom allows students to really make this experiment their own and means they have a genuine chance to discover the winning formula for growing crops on the moon.


Participants can compete alone or in teams of up to 10 people. There are also two divisions to help level the playing field. One is for middle school students in grades 6-8, while the other is the high school division for students in grades 9-12.


There is still time to participate in this year’s Plant the Moon Challenge. Registration is open until Jan 15th, and NASA has extended discounted registration for competitive science members with a premium account.


If you are interested in this competition and any others in the new year, head to our competitions page to see what academic competitions are coming up. Set up your account to follow competitions that excite you and stay up-to-date on all the news with academic competitions.


Upgrade to a premium account to receive 10% off of the Plant the moon challenge. With a premium account, you can also track your progress in competitions, get insider information on academic competitions, access the ICS competitions concierge, and gain exclusive discounts on ICS-managed programs.


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



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)!