Eleven Surrey students are about to lift-off from YVR, bound for Houston, Texas.
Ten are students or recent graduates from Princess Margaret Secondary, and, along with their Simon Fraser University (SFU) mentor Bhupinder Rathore, are part of a team who invited to the finals of the 18th annual International Space Settlement Competition.
Exciting! But what exactly does "space settlement," mean?
The semi-finals project, co-sponsored by space exploration advocates such as NASA and Boeing, looked for students to design a city in space, called a "settlement." The population given to the students to build the design for is 14,200, and the settlement this year was to be around Mercury's orbit.
Rathore, a third-year SFU undergrad specializing in computer engineering, explained they must cover every aspect of the city, starting with the design and dimensions of it, how they will provide food, water and oxygen, and communications. Other questions include how will they construct it, what kind of recreation will they provide, what types of computers and robots that are going to be required and the business opportunities for the development.
The students, who will be in Houston from July 27 to 31, are Hassaan Sheikh, Khush Lamba, Ishmeet Singh, Harinderpal Singh Khakh, Alice Ho, Sindi Sharma, Gurvansh Sharma, Haroon Chaudhary, Zoubair Moosuddee and Vincent Tang.
The team worked a minimum of 10 hours a week since December to create a 40-page proposal. Having qualified from the semi-finals with their Mercury project, the team will now focus on building a settlement for Venus.
"It takes a lot of research, and the competition clearly states we can't make up anything and must use existing technology and references," said Rasore, adding that he has been a "space buff" since he was a little kid. He mentored students from the school last year in the competition and is excited to return to Houston for a second year in a row as part of the only Canadian team.
The finals will consist of 12 teams, and the Princess Margaret students will also be working with groups from Australia, Pakistan and the United States.
"We're extremely excited to meet our other team members; it's really a great learning experience that you can't get from school," said Sharma, who just graduated from Grade 12 and will enter UBC this fall to study at the Sauder School of Business. She hopes to major in either finance or marketing and later work towards an MBA. "We're dealing with actual information and we have to be so precise about everything. We will also be working with people so completely different than us from different countries and cultures."
The Surrey team was chosen by Rathore, in what Sharma said felt like episodes of TV's The Apprentice. Due to the team's success last year, Rathore said there was quite a buzz in the school and initially there were 20 students who came to try out for spots. At any moment, Sharma said it would be like Donald Trump saying, "you're fired!"
There are several components that came into consideration when Rathore chose the team, including an essential love for space, and skills in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and business. Sharma was chosen to help with the business end of things, while Sheikh, who was in Grade 9 this past year and is the youngest member of the team, designed all of the robots, vehicles and some of the machinery for the semi-finals project.
"It was daunting to try out, but I was pretty motivated to get onto the team because I am very interested in future technology and to be an aerocraft engineer is my goal for the future," said Sheikh. "It was a big time commitment but there isn't anything set I would have been doing otherwise, and it was easy to get along with the older students."
And for Rathore to coach this team of high school students while he is a student himself works well with the SFU mentality, as mentors are usually teachers. For the students themselves, Rathore said this was a fantastic opportunity to work side-by-side with engineers assigned to the teams from NASA or Boeing, who may later even serve as references.
"At finals they create the scenario of an actual company running: the students are called 'engineers,' and they have a real engineer, called a 'CEO' yelling at them, 'I need work done!'" said Rathore. "There are real astronauts there to chat with and it's actually quite fun."
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