Monday, August 26, 2013

Concepts Art For Living In Space: Now And From the 1970s

The Elysium film has reignited interest in the concept of human settlers living off the surface of our planet inside enormous space stations and extensive colonies. Film director Neill Blomkamp's Elysium colony was artistically portrayed as a gigantic toroidal structure, one of the most common design concepts depicted in imaginative illustrations produced over many decades. 

Part of the rim of a toroidal space colony, including nearby space vehicles.
Part of the rim of a toroidal space colony, including nearby space vehicles.
Image Credit: NASA

Space theorists predict that the first space settlements will be designed to orbit Earth, preceding those that will spread out across the solar system to take advantage of water discovered on other planetary bodies and resource materials available on sizable asteroids. 

Double cylindrical colony: exterior view. Rick Guidice, mid-1970s.
Image credit: NASA

Regardless of their placement, each space-based settlement will need to be engineered, constructed and operated as an independent biosphere in which all water, oxygen and waste material must be infinitely recycled. 
Since its inception in 1994, the NASA Space Settlement Contest has given thousands of students the opportunity to conceive their own space settlement design, using their skills in art, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. All entries are judged in a single day. In addition to the prestige that comes with winning the contest, winners are invited by contest founder and organizer Al Globus to visit NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

"Hyperion Space Settlement," 2011 Grand Prize. Punjab, India. Design team: Gaurav Kumar, Deepak Talwar, Harman Jot Singh Walia, Mahiyal B. Singh, Kaenat Seth, Ishaan Mehta, and Navdeep Singh Makkar. The team also won the NSS Bruce M. Clark, Jr. Memorial Space Settlement Award.
Hyperion Space Settlement - 2011 Grand Prize winner
Image credit: NASA

The NASA Space Settlement Contest has continued to benefit the global public for almost twenty years. The project has been sustained by the efforts of dedicated NASA Ames personnel, and by making cost-effectiveness a top priority. Educational materials are provided for students around the world at little to no cost, much of it consisting of public domain content available online.

The opportunity to participate in the contest has enabled students to become involved in their own projects and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) pursuits. For many, it has proved to be a life-altering experience. Numerous participants have cited the NASA Space Settlement Contest as having inspired them to pursue careers in the STEM fields. Horia-Mihail Teodorescu, a contest participant from Romania, recalls, “While the contest has encouraged me to learn much more about the sciences than I would have imagined, and offered an unforgettable teamwork experience, what I would consider most important is that, through its interdisciplinarity (sic), the contest has taught me more about myself. Through its act of teaching, it has had a major impact on my development and on my life.”

Unity Settlement
 Unity Settlement
Credit: Student: Diptam Roy Choudhury,  Kolkata, India
Participants benefit from the responsibility and demands of this prestigious competition. The students who enter the contest become deeply committed to their projects, and working out their designs requires them to develop their STEM skills and artistic talents to the fullest extent.

Aresam," 2010 Grand Prize. Durango High School. Colorado, United States. Design team: The Durango Aerospace Design Team under the instruction of Mr. Daniel Gamer. 
Aresam - 2010 Grand Prize entry
Image credit: NASA

Most entries are submitted by participants from the United States, although a sweeping number of grand prize winners are from other countries, most notably Romania. All entries must be submitted in English, but despite this barrier, Romania won or tied for the grand prize in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008. This can be partly attributed to winning entries from Horia-Mihail Teodorescu, quoted above, who won in both 2003 and 2005, but credit should also be given to his advisor and father, Prof. Horia Nicolai Teodorescu, who has made participation in the NASA Space Settlement Contest a major activity in Romania.

Developing new ideas for space settlements is an effective way to unite STEM skills and the arts into an engaging and inspirational curriculum. A large project such as designing a space habitat gives students the opportunity to embrace learning and claim ownership on the knowledge they have acquired. It is NASA's hope and intention that the Space Settlement Contest will continue to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers from all over the world for many years to come.

Over the last 26 years, NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Calif., has organized a global Space Settlement Design Contest to encourage students around the world to tackle the many challenging issues critical to designing habitable space colony environments and transportation systems.

› NASA Space Colony Art from the 1970s
Contacts and sources:
Yvonne Clearwater Art gallery on NASA Space Settlement Design Contest
NASA Space Settlement Design Contest information and winning entries
Space colony art from the 1970s

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