Space cadets soar above competition

“I had six Red Bulls in one day just to stay awake and do my work. I was in operations,” Anirudh Aggarwal, Class of 2020 and co-founder of the NASA PASSAGE, said as he was reflecting on his team’s recent runner-up award at the Asian National Space Settlement competition in Delhi Feb. 10-14.

In this competition, Woodstock, represented by Aggarwal, Joshua Lyndem, Muskan Negi, Nitya Mahajan, Yoojin Lee, Rajat Gupta, Ryan Bajaj, Rohan Mathias, Jia Loomba, and Mario Aji, all from the Class of 2020, collaborated with and competed against top schools around Asia, which had advanced in their internal scholastic space competitions, to create a detailed proposal outlining the different mechanisms for the futuristic establishment of a space settlement. Each member of the Woodstock delegation was divided into different categories, such as structure, human factors, operations, automation, or business, and was subsequently presenting work within those concentrations.

Contrary to their previous competition, which was the Indian regionals, the Woodstock space cadets described the increase in time and responsibility: “This time, we got more than 30 hours to work on our proposal; last time we had 20. We [also had to build] a different settlement for a projected 80,000 people.”

However, many of the crew felt that this added weight was, in fact, not felt: “It was better than last time because, this time, we actually knew what we were doing,” Negi said. “It was less terrifying.”

The team in action

By the end of the competition, Woodstock trumped 27 other highly competitive schools.

According to Aggarwal, the main reason they did win outright was because of their plan of adding a “supercomputer” to their settlement. “A supercomputer is a freakin’ monster! It takes up lots of space, and Anita E. Gale roasted us because of that,” he said. Gale is a NASA engineer who judged the competition.

The award was a major shock not only to the team but many in the school, as this initiative was only started last year by Aggarwal and Lyndem, and there is no dedicated faculty advisor. Yet, even with the lack of experience and support from the school, the space cadets persisted and eventually reaped the rewards.

“It’s really surprising how far we made it. I never thought we would make it this far,” Negi said.

Furthermore, the experience offered team members a way to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths to extreme detail.

“We aren’t that connected, especially in school, because we have our own groups,” Negi said.

Currently, the team is working to resubmit their Request for Proposal (their settlement ideas) to hopefully make it into the international competition, which will be hosted at NASA headquarters in Houston.

Additionally, Aggarwal and Lyndem are pursuing other scholastic space endeavors: “We are trying to build the first-ever Team India Rocketry Challenge. There is already such a competition in America, and we are trying to bring it to India. We’ve had meetings with people already,” Aggarwal said.

“By next year, we hope to get this thing started.”

The space cadets are also trying to get younger people in their PASSAGE: “We’re trying to build a legacy of this competition. It’s a great opportunity, especially since we’re working in STEM and the IB is all about STEM,” Aggarwal said. “Hopefully junior grades will come to interact with us.”

Asked about the most valuable thing she learned from NASA, Negi said, “Everyone in high school struggles to work with each other. You pick up skills to learn to work with different kinds of people.”

Similarly, Aggarwal said, “Working with other schools, collaborating, running around, getting stuff done — it’s awesome. It feels like you’re actually working in a company for someone, for a greater good.

“For something bigger.”

Dhrubhagat Singh is a managing editor of The Woodstocker.

Edited by Aarti Malhotra

Photos courtesy of Anirudh Aggarwal

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