The Lakshmipat Singhania Academy team.
Picture by Arnab Mondal
Town houses instead of apartments for a close-knit community, robots like Richie Rich’s maid Irona to take care of household chores, contact lenses that double as computers — welcome to Arial, a space colony in the lunar orbit that promises to be home to humans by 2033.
For now, its designers — 12 students at Lakshmipat Singhania Academy (LSA) — are headed for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston as one of the two Asian finalists of the Space Settlement Design Competition. The other school from Asia to make it to the final, scheduled in August, is Lahore Grammar School, Pakistan.
The two schools were among 20, chosen on the basis of projects submitted by them, to compete in the Asian regional final in Gurgaon on February 21 and 22. The schools were split into five groups and given 22 hours to submit a blueprint for Arial, a space colony with 8,000 permanent residents and a transient population of 1,000.
What gave the Rockdonnell group, which included LSA, the edge were a town plan that allowed the colony to expand and disposable space suits. “Lunar dust is said to be sticky, so we designed cheap, disposable suits,” said Pronil Roy, a Class XI student at LSA.
While most groups chose either hydroponics or aeroponics to grow plants, Rockdonnell combined the two. Its power generation plan was also unique — solar panels placed at vantage points on the moon to receive sunlight and power transmission through microwave.
“Rockdonnell showed excellent skills. They know how to apply what they have studied and are disciplined,” said Anita Gale, co-founder, International Space Settlement Design Competition and one of the judges.
Team LSA says the most important lessons it learnt were teamwork, time management and handling stress. “It is impossible to make a project successful if the team members work independently. We need to complement each other,” Pronil said.
The students were quick to overcome hurdles like language barrier. “Initially, we found it difficult to communicate with the Chinese students but soon we realised that to win we had to work together. We had a lot in common with our friends from Lahore. Like us, they too hated the vegetarian food we were served!” said Amitabh Agarawal, Class XI. “We enjoy listening to Coldplay, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, so do they, and House MD is our favourite show and theirs too, ” chipped in Pronil.
Quest for knowledge and genuine interest scored over all else — if being a student of commerce couldn’t stop Amitabh from contributing in his own way, Devansh Agarwal didn’t let his CBSE Class XII exam, which began on March 1, come in the way of his dream of becoming an aerospace engineer.
“Our education system is based on rote learning...books and exams. Students don’t learn how to apply. This is an opportunity …to learn to challenge their creativity,” said Sameer Arora, the secretary of the Asian Regional Space Settlement Design Competition.
LSA principal Meena Kak says it is not about just winning. “The experience matters and the invaluable friends they make are important. I feel more than bookish knowledge, students need to get exposure,” said Meena Kak.
Darshika Agarwal, Class XI, will cherish the friendships she eventually forged with “strangers”.