To celebrate the arrival of the first expandable habitat to the International Space Station (ISS) and the launch of the first commercial 3D printer to space, Nasa and non-profit ASME Foundation have launched a new "Future Engineers" challenge.
The "Think Outside the Box" challenge asks students to design an object for astronauts that can be printed within the bounds of the newest 3D printer (10 cm x 10 cm x 14 cm) on the space station but can be assembled or expanded to become larger than that box.
In space exploration, scientists and engineers often strive to make more from less.
Smaller rocket payloads are needed to save cargo space and fuel, while sustainable technologies are needed to reduce, reuse, and recycle what is brought to space.
"Nasa's 'Advanced Exploration Systems Division' pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities, and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond low-Earth orbit," the US space agency said in statement on Monday.
Two demonstrations of such pioneering space technologies include the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (Beam) and Made In Space's Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).
Beam, which has already been installed on the ISS, is a module made up of layers of fabric that will be expanding after it is installed.
It is designed to test and validate expandable habitat technology, paving the way for future habitats on deep space missions.
Made In Space's AMF was launched to the station on Orbital ATK's OA-6 spacecraft.
AMF is a permanent, commercial manufacturing facility, offering entities conducting research on the space station the opportunity to purchase necessary hardware in space instead of launching it.
Like its predecessor, the AMF 3D printer will also provide research that advances the long-term goal of developing off-planet manufacturing capabilities for destinations like the moon or Mars.
The "Think Outside the Box" challenge offers exciting prizes.
The junior and teenage winners will receive a trip to Las Vegas for a VIP tour of Bigelow Aerospace and the finalists will win an expedition-worthy inflatable tent from Heimplanet.
The challenge will remain open through the summer and students must submit their expandable designs by August 1.