Durango aerospace team takes second

The 14-member Durango High School aerospace design team placed second in the recent International Space Settlement Design Competition at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Six members of the team were singled out for individual recognition by National Aeronautics and Space Administration judges.

“This was the most challenging design competition I’ve seen,” said teacher and adviser Dan Garner.

The competition, held July 31-Aug. 2, brought together 12 teams from the United States and four from foreign countries.

Four teams were formed to design space settlements. The DHS team collaborated with high school students from Tehachapi, Calif., Uruguay and Australia.

“We collaborated with the other teams for about two months before leaving for Houston,” Garner said. “We had an inkling that the project would involve Mars. So, the students had to study atmospheric conditions, mineral resources, topographical issues and food production involving that planet.”

Four DHS team members speak some Spanish and three of the Uruguayan students were conversant in English, Garner said.

The Houston contest differed from an earlier space-settlement design contest because work started from scratch, Garner said. In the earlier competition, the students simply submitted a finished project. DHS won the grand prize for that competition, which took place in Chicago in May.

Nick Skahill, a 2010 Durango High graduate, was chosen to head his group’s pseudo corporation.

Skahill received a request for a proposal at noon Saturday, and 42 sleepless hours later, the team presented a 50-page design proposal to a panel of NASA judges.

The team design was a settlement for 24,000 people carved into a cliff face on Mars. The settlement was constructed largely from on-site material mined and manufactured on the planet.

The NASA judges applauded the designs created by Morgan Scrafitti, Morgan Dorsey and Colin Mummery.

Anna Ortega was named the best female presenter overall, and Katie Dudley was cited for her leadership skills,

DHS students have participated in 17 such NASA competitions. They won top honors in 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2008 and the NASA grand prize in 2010.

The DHS team included Paul Deem, Nick Skahill, Anna Ortega, Noah Fischer, Will Zillich, Will Hakes and Ethan Webb from the class of 2010; seniors Gabrielle Massone, Morgan Scarafiotti, Cory Kerns and Morgan Dorsey; juniors Colin Mummery and Katy Schneider; and sophomore Katie Dudley.