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  • Shawna Christenson

Leading Teams Today to the Settlements of Tomorrow-- Logan Eskildsen (9th grade)

The National Space Society (NSS) hosts an annual Space Settlement competition in which they invite a select group of international students to design a theoretical settlement with numerous locations -in a planetary or lunar orbit, or perhaps on the surface. A space settlement focuses on the sole way that society will survive and thrive in space, creating a colony as small as the ISS, or as large as San Francisco, utilizing pre-existing materials to construct a shell for human life. Once the body of the settlement is assembled, the settlement's residents are transported via rockets to space, ensuring that all general systems are functioning. These systems are critical to human life existing in space, including but not limited to Environmental Control and Life Support, Thermal Control, and Propulsion Systems. The settlement must also be self-sufficient, relying on the population to grow and harvest crops, determine a sustainable water source, and establish a leader. Each resident must make positive contributions for the overall well being, meaning if there is a flaw in its design, serious problems may soon ensue.


While the contest itself gives very few boundaries and guidelines to work with, teams are still challenged by this concept, looking for a more profound solution than providing residents in space with the general needs met. Most, if not all entries in this competition rely on a sustainable way to keep the settlement profitable, whether it be through tourism, lunar, asteroid, or martian excavation of precious minerals, or even harvesting solar energy and transmitting it to Earth-based companies. Since the settlement is theoretical, the economic possibilities are nearly infinite. Considering the sheer amount of opportunities that space may provide, it becomes apparent why creating a colony among the cosmos is so pivotal.


The other obstacle that teams must surmount deals with the abundance of societal considerations on the settlement. Considering that the moon alone is more than 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) away, residents would more than likely have to deal with physical and psychological difficulties. After countless research, it is suggested that hours of exercise is the key to establishing a healthy body and brain in space, as it helps sustain bone mass for the body and produce dopamine for the brain. However, there is a limit to how much exercise a resident does before it becomes obsolete or even detrimental to the settlement, as time spent exercising is also time spent not doing work.


For the past few years, the Wolverine CubeSat Development Team has competed in this competition, embracing all of the possibilities and utilizing the knowledge from the years prior. Personally, this contest began when I traveled to the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in 2018 with my former colleagues and teachers to speak on our efforts in the competition. It was when we were in the airport, about to return home, when my aerospace teacher asked me to be the team lead for the competition the following year. I recall spending hours studying the concepts elaborated on above over the summer, and when the time came, I was prepared to lead the team. That year was the first time I had ever been a leader for any activity, and I learned a lot of lessons, even though we did not place.


In 2019-2020, it was my final year in middle school, and I was going to lead our team again despite the results. Instead of focusing on creating content for the team, I wanted to lead others, helping direct and motivate them into designing and editing our drafts. When the deadline approached, I felt much less stressed even though I was doing much more work. I simply felt more prepared having worked on the task prior. After a few sleepless nights and an incredible combined effort, we submitted our final draft and placed first out of 2,646 entries involving 14,359 students. Our team was supposed to travel to the ISDC in Texas to share our ideas for the first space settlement, the L.O.S Concordia; unfortunately, the conference was postponed to next year, where we will then have the opportunity to share. Additionally, due to the collaborative nature of space settlement, there is room to work with students around the world. In the past, our team has included students from Chile, Germany, and China.In fact, our high school team, Team Unity, participated in a space settlement contest sponsored by Space Foundation where we were invited to attend the international championship competition for Future Space Scholars Meet in Beijing in 2019 as the US champs.


I cannot emphasize how important every single space settlement design entries are for pioneering space settlements. Once we travel to the moon again and establish a human presence on Mars, what transpires next? The answer: space settlements. These types of settlements are the future for the final frontier, and if human life is in danger on Earth with overpopulation or an extinction-level event, then we must prepare to survive and thrive in space. Getting involved in space settlement contests provides students opportunities to perform real-world critical thinking skills as well as to implement creative design solutions. In short, recognizing the value of experiential and collaborative learning through the use of teams to solve the problems of the future will aid students today. Learning to lead teams is an essential 21st century skill and, space settlements, in particular, are an engaging, important, and fun way to learn

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