How Many Companies Does It Take To Send A Science Project Into Space?

No, that's not the setup to a joke. Google, YouTube, Lenovo, Space Adventures, NASA, ESA, and JAXA are pulling science and tech education into the spotlight yet again, hosting a global science fair with prizes that are, quite literally, out of this world. Who's laughing now?

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In one of the most otherworldly partnerships ever, YouTube, Lenovo, Space Adventures, and space agencies on three continents are joining forces to send two high-school science projects into space.

The event, called Space Lab, is headed up by Lenovo and YouTube, who yesterday blew the ready-get-set whistle for the worldwide science fair. 

"We've been working with NASA since 1995," Mike Schmedlen, director of worldwide education at Lenovo, tells Fast Company. "We've seen a waning interest in people who are majoring in physics and other STEM disciplines...We think space is an inspirational topic, and we want to get more students involved in it."

Hence the science fair. The contest is open to students across the world (in any of the 30 or so countries in which YouTube is registered). Contestants enter the contest by uploading two-minute videos describing their competing science project. A public voting round will pick the six winners by region. Then, a team of judges—including Stephen Hawking, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, and astronauts—picks a winner in each category.

The lucky teenagers who win will have their experiments flown into space, carried on board an ISS-bound rocket, and could find themselves catapulted into YouTube stardom. Their winning entries will earn a joyride to the International Space Station, where astronauts will perform their experiment while being live-streamed on YouTube. It doesn't end there. They'll get to pick between one of two grand prizes: a trip to Japan in summer 2012 to see their experiment take off, or, when they turn 18, a chance to participate in the astronaut training program at Russia’s Star City. The four other regional finalists will be given a Zero-G ride, courtesy of Space Adventures, and laptops from Lenovo. 

Lenovo, another company who's been consistently enthusiastic about promoting science education and awareness, is pitching in too. They’re launching a custom-designed tablet chock-full of science-based apps and features. The project as a whole is also backed by NASA, the European Space Agency, and JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

This contest is the latest Google-supported venture to push science education into the spotlight. Earlier this year, the company ran an open worldwide science fair all by themselves, where kids posted videos explaining their science projects. The finalists in the three age categories were invited to the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. After presenting for the judging panel, which included Dean Kamen, Peter Norvig, and other well-decorated scientists and science communicators, winners were picked at a live-streamed event. 

It seems Google is serious about making sure there's enough Google-worthy talent to go around in the future. "Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is something very close to our hearts," Zahan Bharmal, the Google/YouTube project lead and unabashed space geek said at a press conference. "We believe that video can help people learn."

While plans for the Space Lab beyond next year's launch aren't entirely crystal clear, Bharmal insists it must live on. "When Space Lab comes to a close next year, we won't want that to be the end of it," Bharmal said. "We want it to become the best channel for web space and science content." If nothing else, Space Lab will continue to be a destination for plum space videos, curated by YouTube's partners. 

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow on Twitter, Google+.

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2 Comments

  • Richard Smith

    Reminds me of when a father-son team from Brooklyn sent an iPhone 4 into space about a year ago, and it's truly inspiring. Do a search for Brooklyn Space Program and see video of the entire project.