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SIOUX CITY -- Do you remember that scene in Ron Howard's "Apollo 13," in which Tom Hanks and his fellow astronauts had to prevent poisonous carbon dioxide from filling up the spaceship?

With found objects like cardboard and duct tape as well as advice from the tech nerds on the ground, Hanks and his crew saved their mission -- and themselves -- through teamwork and some good, old-fashioned ingenuity.

West High School senior Hiatt Holman said that was the image racing though his head when he and 14 other Sioux City Community School District students traveled to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, to help design a prototype of a space facility that would accommodate people in the year 2054.

There, Holman (and West classmates Gissella Ayala Garcia, Mason Jelken, Collin Houts and Reid Jansen; North's Reed Adajar and Tinh Tran; and East's Raphael Douglas, Myranda Duitsman, Jennifer Herrera, Drew Olson, Chayce Patterson, Kaden Schossow and Nate Zyzda) were joined by a group of other Iowa high school students as well as students from Texas, during this annual regional space settlement design competition.

"I imagined it would be like you'd see it in the movies," Holman said, a few weeks following the March 23-24 trip. "A bunch of people working together toward a common goal."

Once at the space center, students were separated into four competing companies that were given the task of creating a design and operating plan for the facility. This included preparing a 50-page written summary as well as a 35-minute oral briefing to judges that addresses the project's requirement while spelling out things like design, budgets, schedules, even plumbing and recreational concerns.

Oh, did we forget to mention the kids had approximately 18 hours to get everything done?

"Pretty much, everybody pulled an all-nighter," said Patterson, who along with classmate Olson and West's Ayala Garcia and Jansen, were part of the winning team. "We had to present early Sunday morning and were still hard at work, all night on Saturday."

According to Kyle Timmins, STEM integration program coordinator with the school district, such intense, hands-on experience will allows students to discover what it is like to be an aerospace professional.

"It is a real eye-opener because it is so challenging," he said.

Started in 1983 as a way to attract more kids into the aerospace industry, the space settlement design competition is divided into five major sections: structure, operations, human factors, automation design and services and business development.

While the competition naturally attracts more science-minded students, anyone can participate.

This is true for North 10th-graders Tran and Adajar, who would rather be earthbound than high in the sky.

"That was the most interesting thing about the Johnson Space Center," Tran said. "It encompasses more things than just being an astronaut."

"You can be a scientist, an engineer or in the medical and still contribute," Adajar added. 

A person can even be an illustrator for NASA. That's what East's Douglas found out.

"I drew what I thought the space settlement would look like," he said. "The illustrations were how I was able to help out." Ultimately, Douglas would like to be an architect.

Douglas' East High classmate Olson prefers business to space exploration. That's why he worked on the marketing of the futuristic settlement.

"You have to be able to convince people that your space colony is the best," he said. "That's why you need someone who care share the vision to the consumer."

Despite that, Holman still considers space travel as something straight out of the movies, while his classmate Ayala Garcia suggested space settlements may be here before we know it.

"The space colonies we created were for people in the year 2054," she said. "That's just 35 years from now, which isn't too far off once you think about it." 

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