SFU space buff Sumit Rathore co-leads students to NASA victory

Students of Princess Margaret School Surrey were in the news last week for winning the top prize in NASA competition but there are two others who deserve praise in this unique project.

Sumit (Bhupinder) Rathore, a third-year Simon Fraser University computer-engineering student, is over the moon after helping these school students win global space competition.

Grumbo Aerospace, the winning team of the annual International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC) at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, is the first such team to include Canadian high school students.

Thanks to the tutelage of Rathore and physics teacher Joe Sihota, 10 Princess Margaret Secondary School students in Surrey became the first Canadian semi-finalists to make it to the competition’s invitation-only final.

ISSDC organizers, who are allied with NASA, the Boeing Company and the aerospace industry, invited student teams from 20 schools worldwide to the final.

Finalists, who had submitted winning semi-final designs for a space colony, then formed four new teams that were given company names. The companies competed for the final prize — a trophy, gold medals and a coveted list of résumé references consisting of NASA astronauts and aerospace engineers.

After trying three consecutive times to win the final, Princess Margaret Secondary students (the only Canadian entrants so far), became this competition’s first winning Canadian entrants.
As members of the Grumbo Aerospace company/team, the Surrey students won the approval of the nine aerospace engineers and retired astronauts judging the four final teams’ designs for a 10,000-plus, person-settlement on Earth’s moon.

Rathore, along with Jack Bacon, a pioneering space-technology engineer dubbed the next Carl Sagan, helped coach Grumbo Aerospace to its final victory. Previously recognized by NASA as a gifted teacher, Rathore credits competition seasoning, time management and his personal passion for lunar life with transforming his Surrey protégés into third-time-lucky victors.

“This year I was fortunate enough to have some of the old members returning from my last year’s team,” notes Rathore. “They were very familiar with the stress and unexpected challenges of the final. They were more mentally prepared for the time management required to make on-the-fly creative decisions about the final settlement’s design.

“’The location of the final settlement design on the Earth’s moon worked in our favour. As a huge fan of the moon, I was familiar with most of its settlement design-challenges. I supplied our team with a lot of research to help design requested commercial and industrial ventures, such as a manufacturing base and a tourism centre.”

In citing Grumbo Aerospace as the winning team, the judges praised its attention to detail and creativity in including elements such as hiking and wedding opportunities and self-repairing exterior structures.

The team’s manufacturing base produced computer components, orbital-computing installations, spacesuits and spaceship modules. It included a processing unit to convert lunar raw ore into finished products for use in space-based construction.

The team’s tourism base featured a hotel with earthly and lunar views, special vehicles for tourism travel to all the Apollo landing sites, a spacesuit for tourists and many tourism-oriented lunar-based activities.