The Annual NASA Space Settlement Design Competition is open to all students up to 12th grade, from anywhere around the world. As part of the competition, individuals or groups of students present their original designs for space settlements. The competition, which takes place in Florida, recreates the experience of working on an aerospace team at NASA for the students who participate.
On Monday, the results of the competition—which grants a grand prize for the overall winners of the contest, and then different prizes depending on the grade levels of the students and sizes of the groups— were announced. A group of seven Argentine students, between the ages of 13 and 17, were one of the groups who participated in the final stages of the competition after receiving an award earlier in the contest for their project to build a city on Earth’s satellite.
Florencia Sfara, Guadalupe Peris Alonso, Macarena Peris Alonso, Carolina Fridman, Francesca Rothman Celi, Sun Ugalde and Jessica Chang, all attend Islands International School in Belgrano. The group of young women were invited to Florida to participate in the final stages of the competition after winning the first prize for Latin America in May for their design to expand and develop the International Space Station. They dubbed this addition to the station Puerto Libertad.
At the NASA facilities, the Argentine students joined forces with students from the United Kingdom, India, China, the US and Australia to design a city in a lunar crater, to be hypothetically built in 2043. Throughout the course of four days, they competed against three other international teams, and were ultimately awarded the first prize for groups their size by a committee of judges made up of engineers, astronauts and experts in the field.
The city they proposed was dubbed Alaskol, and would include an industrial park, with the objective of attracting different companies to promote the economy of the terrestrial satellite. It would also have facilities for the specific purpose of receiving space tourists.
“It was incredible, and when we won we could not believe it,” Orlando Guadalupe (16), president of the Argentine delegation, told La Nación. “It is the first time that Argentina won, and it was a great honor to receive this award. Each team was appointed two actual NASA engineers…Our connection was with the real NASA.”
“The most interesting thing was the interaction between different cultures, the biggest challenge was to reach an agreement amongst everyone because everyone works differently. This was the experience from the competition that I found most rewarding, in the end” Florencia (16), who acted as director of marketing for the simulation, stated. She described the experience as both fun and very demanding: “We had two days to prepare the project and on the third day we put together our presentation, we did not sleep that night but we made it.”
In addition to having demonstrated great ingenuity and creativity, the Argentine delegation was praised for how well it worked with others.
“Not only did they win the first prize, but many of the participants from their group thanked them afterwards because they were the most receptive delegation with regards to communication,” Luciana Micha (42), the teacher and coach of the Argentine delegation, told La Nación. There was a lot of active listening, there were many proposals, and the girls stood out for being very respectful to different ideas and multiculturalism.”
“It’s a competitive place,” Micha added. “Everyone comes to show off, and the girls were recognized by everyone as being very receptive, very calm, and very strategic in their way of directing and addressing the group, and of being very respectful in every situation.”
The team’s victory success in the aeronautics competition is not only a victory for Argentina, but represents a huge win for women and girls in science and engineering in the country. A survey conducted by Proyecto Gentec has demonstrated that, even though the number of female scientists in Argentina has recently spiked, reaching almost 50 percent, they still hold only a small proportion—10 percent— of senior scientific positions in the nation. Leadership in science and engineering is thus still very much a male-dominated area in Argentina.
“Women’s participation in science and technology in Argentina may appear to be balanced but, in fact, this is not the case,” said María Elina Estebanez, who conducted the survey.
Meanwhile, the more elite the field within the science sector, the more restricted it is for women. For instance, while roughly 50 percent of scientists in Argentina are women, the number of female astronomers hovers at 39 percent. However, according to Argentine solar physicist Cristina Mandrini, this number doesn’t tell the whole story: while at the lowest levels of research the proportions of men and women are almost fifty fifty in Argentina, the highest level of the field only has two women.
Thus, the victory of the Argentine delegation in the field—composed solely of young women aged 13-17— sends an important message to the country: women represent a powerful, yet too often untapped talent within the science and engineering sectors. Allowing them to flourish in these roles— especially in leadership positions— will inevitably pay off for the country as a whole.